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GPS technology’s role in supporting offender management

Posted on 15 February 2019 by Jane Kerr, Senior Researcher .

The ongoing debate over the use of custodial versus community sentences continued recently during a speech in the House of Commons. Rory Stewart, Minister for Prisons and Probation stated that ‘we have conclusive evidence that giving somebody a community sentence rather than a short custodial sentence reduces reoffending over a one-year period’. Innovative technology, in the form of Global Positioning System (GPS) location monitoring, has been outlined as a possible way to better facilitate community sentences. 

The National Centre for Social Research was commissioned by the Ministry of Justice to evaluate a pilot of this new technology used with offenders and defendants. This form of electronic monitoring is a way of using satellite tracking tags to remotely monitor and record information on an individual’s whereabouts or behaviour. It is intended to support offender management, as well as open-up non-custodial sentencing options to people who would otherwise be in prison and can be used with a range of offenders including individuals on court-imposed bail. GPS location monitoring was piloted across eight police force areas in England between October 2016 and March 2018.

We spoke with staff and delivery partners including the police, courts and probation services, exploringhow the availability and use of tags affected the behaviour of local justice decision-makers when, for example, deciding whether to grant a defendant bail or release an offender from prison. We also wanted to increase understanding around the processes delivery partners had used during the pilot, and any challenges they may have experienced.   We also spoke with people who had worn a tag to understand their experiences of it, and whether and how this type of monitoring affected their behaviour.

Our evaluation report  was published today. It shows that staff were generally enthusiastic about the potential of the GPS tag to help monitor and manage wearers’ compliance with their bail requirements or sentence and licence conditions. Staff felt that GPS location monitoring could offer additional assurances that individuals on bail and offenders could be managed in the community rather than prison by:

  • supporting offender rehabilitation;
  • facilitating risk management;
  • helping to inform decisions about whether a wearer should be recalled to custody or court; and,
  • providing evidence about whether a wearer could be ruled out from a crime.

For wearers, the GPS tag was thought to give them freedom to live in the community that they may not otherwise have been granted. It also helped them maintain family links and find or remain in employment. However, there were less positive impacts related to health and wellbeing. For example, some wearers reported increased anxiety about not complying with their conditions, or sleeplessness because of the size and weight of the tag.

The learning and recommendations presented in the report are being used to inform the national roll-out of GPS location monitoring.

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