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The Future Role of GPS Electronic Tags

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I believe there is currently much debate in relation to a criminal court’s discretion when deciding upon the appropriate sentence for guilty offenders. For example, many have already suggested that the five individuals found guilty of the £14 million pound raid in London’s diamond district should have received a higher custodial sentence than the seven years given.  On the other hand, there are also many offenders who serve custodial sentences when other more appropriate alternatives should have been provided in particular to vulnerable and young offenders who run the risk of being easily radicalised and ultimately starting a cycle of re-offending.

Reducing crime in the UK will evidently not happen overnight, however, in order to achieve a lower crime rate (such as countries like Denmark and Sweden) our focus should be in providing a stronger social security network that predominantly serves to reduce crimes of desperation. Throughout my seat in the criminal department, I have made many prison visits and I can now appreciate the argument and focus that should be placed on rehabilitation instead of sole punishment in prison.

This month, one hundred criminals are to be fitted with a GPS tag under a pilot scheme to be launched this summer which, if successful, could be rolled out nationwide.  This updated tagging system (which will monitor an offender’s location 24 hours a day) seems like a very appropriate, reliable and robust way of monitoring, controlling and modifying the behaviour of offenders within our communities. For many victims, particularly those who have suffered from domestic abuse or harassment, this GPS tag should reassure them as it enables immediate action to be taken if the offender fails to comply and ultimately, be tracked on a 24 hour basis.

Electronic tags have been used throughout the Criminal Justice System whether for part of a bail condition, requirement in a community order or as a condition of release from prison.  However, it is evident that these tags have been limited in their usage.  

Evidence has shown that electronic tags have contributed to a reduction in re-offending and be extremely cost effective. In a recent report, The Metropolitan Police ran a small scale GPS pilot between May 2013 and February 2015 in order to examine whether tags were a cost effective tool in reducing re-offending. The pilot confirmed that tags were indeed a cost effective tool and have equally shown to have had a positive impact on an offender’s behaviour. In fact, in terms of costs alone, various UK Government sources (Ministry of Justice, Costs per Place and Costs per Prisoner: National Offender Management Service Annual Report) have suggested that the cost per day per subject of the GPS tags is in the region of £8 to £16. This compares to around £68 per day per prisoner (or £73 per day per prison place). Why then are they not being used in a wider context?

Our primary goal is to reduce crime within our society however, in order to do this, we need to educate offenders on how to take responsibility and live a normal lawful life.  I believe by introducing these 24 hour electronic tags, offenders will be monitored at all times but continue to be part of society, supported through therapy and counselling, as opposed to being in prison exposed to the negative influence of hardened  reoffenders. Moreover, these electronic tags will hopefully serve as a constant reminder of the potential consequences that could occur should offenders breach their conditions.

What is electronic tagging?

  • A monitoring unit which is fitted to the offender’s ankle. The tag allows signals to be sent to the relevant control centre to monitor the whereabouts of the offender.

How will this new tagging system be beneficial?

  • Whilst both cost effective and practical it means that the offender can be immediately located and enables quick and effective action to be taken if the offender fails to comply. Monitoring offenders location in real time can also help to establish an alibi should the offender be accused of an additional crime or offer evidence if it can be established that they were at a crime scene.
  • Help improve offender’s relationship with family – encourage long-term changes which will discourage reoffending. According to the most recent Prison Reform Trust, the average annual cost per prison place is £36,237 and the rise in the prison population represents an estimated additional cost of £1.22bn annually – over £40 per year for every UK taxpayer.
  • Whilst electronic tagging won’t be cheap even with its drawbacks, it will still cost the taxpayer a lot less per offender. According to the Prison Reform Trust, re-offending by all recent ex-prisoners costs the economy between £9.5 and £13 billion a year.

What are the potential draw backs of implementation?

  • Social and psychological impact of the stigma of wearing a visible GPS tag
  • GPS electronic tags cannot at present cover all geographical areas with the relevant signal required to be able to track on a 24 hour basis


If you have any questions or concerns regarding a criminal matter, please do not hesitate to contact our specialist Criminal Defence Team on 020 7935 3522.