An inspection by HM Inspectorate of Probation on the use of electronic monitoring as a tool for the Probation Service in reducing reoffending and managing risk has just been published.
At any one time approximately 8,000 people across England and Wales are monitored electronically either as part of a community sentence or following release from prison. This inspection takes a closer look at the Probation Service’s use of electronic monitoring to protect the public, reduce reoffending and support individuals to move towards crime-free lives.
Electronic monitoring itself is not a new concept, but legal and technological changes over the past 20 years have widened its usage and scope. Global positioning systems (GPS) can now track individuals with higher levels of accuracy and alcohol monitoring tags provide regular monitoring results around the clock. There is considerable political and public interest in ‘tagging’, but little research into its long-term effects on individuals or impact on crime rates.
This topic was last inspected in 2012, as a follow-up to a previous inspection in 2008. In 2012, it was identified that tagging should be used more creatively, not only to punish, but also to help change behaviour.
Our inspection found that electronic monitoring is often treated as an ‘extra’, rather than an integral part of an individual’s supervision. Probation practitioners can consult a raft of policies and guidance, but these do not set out clearly how electronic monitoring should complement or strengthen other activity to manage a person on probation effectively. We found that practitioners did not always discuss electronic monitoring with individuals on probation – data could be used to inform conversations but is not always.
There were missed opportunities to acknowledge positive progress or to signpost people who have completed alcohol monitoring to further sources of support. People on probation told us that the use of monitoring offers them a period of stability and a reason to break contact with criminal associates.
While probation practitioners were positive about the potential of electronic monitoring for supporting desistance and the management of risk of harm, accessing information about their cases was a source of frustration for many. Requesting data on an individual’s movements is a time-consuming process.
The contract with the electronic monitoring agency does not stipulate a response time for all types of cases – we found examples of practitioners waiting up to three days for location information in high risk of serious harm cases. Plans to set up a portal to give practitioners access to up to date information on individuals’ movements and violations have not been realised. Almost all of the practitioners we spoke to said such a portal would have helped them to manage cases more efficiently.
Home detention curfews can be used in cases as an alternative to custody for those eligible for early release from prison. Probation practitioners told us they felt decisions were almost always weighted towards release, regardless of their concerns. The assessment used to make decisions has major gaps – not least whether the proposed address for curfew is actually suitable.
There is no national policy to mandate domestic abuse and safeguarding checks at these addresses, and we found that these checks were not conducted routinely at court or before release from custody on curfew. It is deeply concerning to think that people are being placed on curfew in homes where there is a potential risk of harm to, or from, others. We recommend an urgent review of the assessment process.
We conclude that electronic monitoring has significant potential to bring value to the Probation Service’s work. However, more work is needed before these benefits are fully realised. We recommend that senior HMPPS leaders commission research to understand the impact of electronic monitoring and how to get the most out of this tool. They should also set out a strategy for its use across the Probation Service and ensure practitioners receive up to date access to electronic monitoring information, as well as training to strengthen their knowledge and confidence. We have also made a number of operational recommendations to support the tool’s use in protecting the public and reducing reoffending.
This publication is available for download at: www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmiprobation