Hopes that new legislation for England and Wales will cut reoffending and protect public
Offenders who commit “alcohol-fuelled” crimes can be required to wear “sobriety tags” and banned from drinking under legislation that comes into force in England and Wales on Tuesday.
Courts will have the power to order those convicted of drink-related crimes to wear an ankle monitor for up to 120 days. It assesses whether there is any alcohol in their sweat.
The first tags are expected to be fitted this year once probation staff have been trained and the monitoring contract agreed. When up and running, as many as 2,300 are likely to be fitted on offenders every year.
The initiative follows successful pilot projects including one carried out in London when Boris Johnson was mayor. People who are found to be breaching an alcohol abstinence order can be brought back before the courts to face further punishment, which could include imprisonment.
Announcing the national rollout, Kit Malthouse MP, the crime, policing and justice minister, said: “Alcohol-fuelled crime blights communities and puts an unnecessary strain on our frontline services.
“Smart technologies like sobriety tags not only punish offenders but can help turn their lives around. While prison will always be the right place for many criminals, tough community sentences like this can help cut reoffending and protect the public.”
Two successful pilots, one across Humberside, Lincolnshire and North Yorkshire and another in London, recorded that 94% of offenders remained alcohol-free during their monitoring period.
Keith Hunter, the police and crime commissioner (PCC) for Humberside, said: “During the trial in our area they provided rehabilitation agencies a real opportunity to work with the individual and get them to recognise and change their behaviour.
“Undoubtedly their use will help reduce the number of victims of alcohol-related crime, many in domestic situations, and aid the rehabilitation of offenders as they become a standard feature of the criminal justice system.”
The tough community sentences not only punish offenders, according to the Ministry of Justice, but also help their rehabilitation by forcing them to address the causes of their harmful behaviour.
An estimated 39% of violent crime involves an offender under the influence of alcohol, according to the Crime Survey for England and Wales. The social and economic cost of alcohol-related harm is calculated by Public Health England as being £21.5bn per year.
The sobriety tags sample an offender’s sweat every half-hour to determine whether alcohol has been consumed. They are said to be capable of distinguishing between alcohol-based products, such as hand sanitisers, that could be used to mask alcohol consumption and can also detect when contact between skin and tag has been blocked.
They will not be used on people who are alcohol-dependent or have certain medical conditions. Judges have been calling for many years for tougher non-custodial sentences.
An unidentified offender, who wore one of the tags in the Humberside, Lincolnshire and North Yorkshire pilot scheme, said: “Since I had the tag removed I feel 100% in control of my drinking. I was worried to begin with that when I had the tag taken off I might go back to drinking again but the process gave me a better understanding of alcohol. I also didn’t want to go back to court.
“I no longer need a drink to manage my emotions which is down to the tag and my probation officer – I’m much happier with my life now and pleased that more people can benefit from my experience of wearing the tags.”