Drawing on the recent forensic analysis by the National Audit Office (NAO), Professor Nellis, one of the foremost experts on electronic monitoring, highlights the ‘massive waste of public money’ and the ‘hubris and incompetence’ that has dogged the programme.
But as he points out, the electronic monitoring fiasco was more than just a story of unrealistic plans, shifting specifications and incompetent management. It was also the story of a politically-driven attempt, particularly by the former Justice Secretary Chris Grayling, to reshape aspects of the justice system along market lines.
A ‘lot of what Grayling pushed through during his tenure’, Professor Nellis writes, makes sense if one abandons the idea that it had a primarily penal rational. Every move he made… was designed… to make established state agencies dysfunctional so that a certain kind of market model could be imposed on them’.
The probation service was subjected to a damaging part-privatisation from which it has not recovered. In the new satellite enabled tags, Grayling thought his department was developing worldleading technology that it could sell around the world. Instead it wasted large amounts of time and money on a scheme that many had suspected would fail.
Looking ahead, Professor Nellis calls for the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee to review what happened and hold those who made the key decisions to account. He also argues that the MoJ should draw on the ‘abundant expertise in England and Wales’ to help develop any new programmes, and consider a more localised approach to contracting.
And he throws down a challenge to penal 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’.
It is up to penal reform organisations and others to make this case.