Page last updated at 00:14 GMT, Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Tagging 'allows curfew breaches'

Electronic tag being worn round an ankle
The investigation was done by police, probation and court inspectors

Criminals given electronic tags could break their curfews for more than 11 hours and still not be arrested, a report has revealed.

Inspectors found being at home for just a few minutes of a 12-hour curfew meant offenders received just a warning. Only a second breach would prompt an arrest.

The report said the system was "meeting the contract but missing the point".

The Tories said tags must be used "appropriately" with "swift and effective sanctions" for any breaches.

Courts can sentence people to a curfew under a tag for a maximum of six months.

Some offenders released from prison early can also be tagged and given a curfew for up to four and a half months.

Those under curfew must remain at a particular address during the times set out by the courts.


A joint investigation by police, probation and court inspectors looked at the treatment of 286 offenders in January and February 2008.

It found they only faced automatic re-arrest if they broke the whole of their curfew - typically 12 hours - in one go.

Less than that for a first breach and they were given a warning.

When there is a casual approach to compliance, the system is undermined
Nick Herbert
Shadow justice secretary

The report said there was "a system of 'thresholds for enforcement', whereby breach action was not started [immediately] against offenders who broke their curfew".

"Offenders were in practice being allowed a certain amount of 'rope' before breach action would be taken, but they were not being told exactly how much rope they had, and accordingly many reached the end of their rope," it added.

Andrew Bridges, HM chief inspector of probation, said it "doesn't seem right" that criminals were given so much leeway.

"We found that enforcement policy with court-sentenced curfews is significantly different both from the way other community requirements are enforced and from what the courts and the public might reasonably expect," he said.

Mr Bridges called for a "major re-think" of how the orders were applied.

He said the current system "did not promote compliance" and was deliberately designed to prevent too many prisoners breaking the rules.

"The intention of this approach was to avoid breaching too many cases, while also avoiding publicising to offenders the fact that curfews were not as strict in practice as they might first appear," he said.

"Ironically, we nevertheless found that a high proportion [a third] of court-sentenced, electronically monitored curfew cases still reached the point of requiring breach action."

Shadow justice secretary Nick Herbert said: "Tagging can be a useful aid to law enforcement, but it must be used appropriately and there should be swift and effective sanctions for any breaches.

"When inappropriate offenders are tagged and there is a casual approach to compliance, the system is undermined and the public are unnecessarily placed at risk."

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