South London scheme tackling binge drinkers who commit minor crimes to be rolled out across capital and could eventually operate nationwide
A scheme targeting binge drinkers who commit minor crimes by fitting them with ankle tags that monitor alcohol consumption could be extended nationwide after a small-scale pilot was hailed as a success.
The trial run, which saw 111 offenders in four south London boroughs fitted with the so-called sobriety tags, saw just over 90% of them reach the mandated 120-day period without drinking, according to the office of the city’s mayor, Boris Johnson.
The mayor’s office said this was significantly better than the compliance rate for traditional community orders. The scheme will now be extended throughout the capital, with proposals for it to eventually operate nationwide.
The year-long test was the first in which offenders were compulsorily fitted with the tags, which measure alcohol levels in perspiration and transmit the readings to a base station at the person’s home. If alcohol is detected or the tag is tampered with, it sends an alert to probation officers. Repeated breaches can bring prison sentences.
Northamptonshire police previously ran a voluntary scheme with the same tags, made by an American company whose technology has been used for more than a decade in the US, but this involved just three people.
Johnson said alcohol-fuelled crime placed “a massive strain on frontline services”, and the tags had been shown to work well. He said: “It’s now time to bring this exciting new crime fighting technology to the rest of the capital, and help remove the scourge of alcohol-fuelled criminal behaviour from all of London’s streets.”
The Conservatives promised in their election manifesto to consider using the scheme nationally. Andrew Selous, the junior justice minister, said the initial results were “very encouraging”.
The tags are based around a 2012 law which allows courts to order offenders to abstain from alcohol for up to 120 days. They are aimed mainly at binge drinkers who commit offences such as drink driving, resisting arrest, assault and criminal damage while under the influence of alcohol.
While tag wearers are also offered advice and treatment over drink, the scheme is not intended for those dependent on alcohol, for whom a 120-day abstinence period would be unrealistic. It is also not aimed at drinkers who commit domestic violence, where more specialist interventions are seen as more effective.
Those fitted with a tag are required to be at home at certain times of the day so the base station can read alcohol measurements from the tag. If no readings are received for 48 hours this is seen as a breach of the order. Offenders are warned to avoid perfume or spray tans, which can trigger the tag, and cannot immerse it in water.
When the test scheme was launched last year, the charity Alcohol Concern welcomed the initiative but said it must be used in conjunction with effective treatment and other measures.