Call for parliament to investigate tagging fiasco

Friday, 28 July 2017

The Ministry of Justice should consult widely and transparently with public sector, private sector and civil society organisations on plans to electronically monitor those under a criminal sanction, if it is to avoid the waste and chaos that characterised attempts to develop a new satellite-enabled GPS tag. Parliament should also investigate the 'vast waste of time, energy and money' expended by the Ministry of Justice as its unrealistic programme lurched from one crisis to another.

The call comes in a new Centre for Crime and Justice Studies briefing by Professor Mike Nellis, one of the foremost experts on electronic monitoring. The briefing – 'Grayling's failings on electronic monitoring' – details the ‘vast sums of money endlessly wasted’ on a ‘misconceived’ attempt to introduce GPS tags across England and Wales. The failure of the Ministry of Justice to develop ‘an intelligent, integrated strategy’ led to the ‘utter fiasco’ that those in the know had predicted.

The briefing also examines the political calculations behind the plans for GPS tags, which were pursued despite the lack of evidence that the tags were either effective or required. The then Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling, who championed the GPS tags programme, ‘was not interested in garnering an evidence-base for GPS tracking because he thought he was creating something so novel and transformative that nowhere else could possibly have lessons for him’, writes Professor Nellis.

Mr Grayling, argues Professor Nellis, hoped that the new GPS tag could be sold around the world through the Ministry of Justice's controversial commercial arm: Just Solutions International (JSI). Mr Grayling's successor, Michael Gove, closed down JSI. The GPS tagging plans are currently in disarray and years behind schedule.

Looking ahead, Professor Nellis calls for the Ministry of Justice to draw on the 'abundant expertise' across the commercial, statutory and third sectors on managing electronic monitoring programmes. He also argues that a more localised approach to commissioning electronic monitoring should be considered.

And he throws down a challenge to criminal justice reform organisations to play an active role in shaping future developments. Electronic monitoring technologies, he argues, ‘will never be used wisely and well anywhere unless they are embedded in decent and properly resourced pre-trial, community supervision and resettlement services’.

Professor Mike Nellis said:

The reason the Ministry of Justice failed so comprehensively is not only because of incompentence about electronic monitoring. It is also because their entire penal policy – closing courts, starving prisons of resources, part-privatising the probation service – was malevolent and incompetent.

Electronic monitoring will never be used wisely and well unless it is embedded in decent and properly resourced pre-trial, community supervision and resettlement services.

Electronic monitoring has a contribution to make to an overdue reduction in the use of imprisonment, but only a modest one.

Richard Garside, Director of the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, said:

So shambolic was the Ministry of Justice's attempt to implement GPS tagging, that active sabotage would look much the same.

But it was as much a political, as a management, failure. By treating GPS tags as a business proposition and a nice little export earner, the Ministry of Justice lost sight of what GPS tagging is for and whether it has a useful role to play at all.