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Tagged In:  Alcohol

Could ankle tags fitted to those who repeatedly commit alcohol fuelled crimes really curb offending in our city centres? 

Well, Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, seems to think so and it appears he’s got every reason to feel the London based ankle tags, commonly referred to as ‘booze bangles’, will help address binge drinking related incidents. 

Taking between 45-48 measures a day, the tags perform around-the-clock monitoring of alcohol in an offender’s perspiration. And, if the offender breaches their alcohol abstinence order, they can be returned to court for further sanctions. 

Promising results 

In the first 12 months of the South London-based pilot saw 113 orders made with offenders required to remain sober for up to 120 days. Remarkably, 92% complied with the conditions, which the Mayor of London Office says “compares favourably with the compliance rate for other community based orders”.

Now, the scheme has been extended beyond just the four pilot boroughs to the whole of London, with funding from the Ministry of Justice and the Mayor of London’s office. 

As of this month (April), courts across the capital are now able to order an ankle bracelet to be worn by offenders whose crimes were alcohol related.

In a press statement, Justice Secretary, Michael Gove, said:

“By giving courts this new power and making the latest technology available, we are helping offenders understand the detrimental impact drinking alcohol can have on their behaviour.”

The tags have been welcomed by probation officers, and the London Community Rehabilitation Company has also shown its support for the scheme, with its Deputy Director of Rehabilitation, Iain Anderson, saying:

“Through sobriety tagging, we have seen a significant rise in the number of people who comply with their community order and we are really keen to expand this success by using this innovative ‘tool’ to achieve meaningful results.”

Tackling alcohol crime head on 

Alcohol-related crime is estimated to cost the UK up to £13 billion per year and police officers spend around half of their time dealing with alcohol-related casework. In addition, around 40% of those attending A&E have been drinking, according to the Institute of Alcohol Studies

Furthermore, around 14 per cent of all deaths in reported road traffic accidents in 2013 involved at least one driver over the drink drive limit (Department for Transport, 2015).

It’s not surprising then that the scheme is being rolled out further and is likely to make its debut in Greater Manchester following devolution of criminal justice powers to the region. 

The tags are made by Alcohol Monitoring Systems, a Colorado-based company whose SCRAM CAM branded technology has been used for more than ten years in the US, with promising results. US authorities claim it has a success rate above 95% and is effective in reducing re-offending and domestic violence.

Could the technology change offender behaviour?

Relatively speaking, the UK is in a similar position to where the US was 12 years ago, when the first alcohol monitoring bracelets were introduced in Michigan.  As The Guardian reported, in Wayne County, Michigan, suitable offenders on early release from prison are issued with the bracelets, although there is no treatment element. It’s going back some time now, but among the first 975 people fitted with the bracelets, 84% didn't drink any alcohol at all and of those who did, only 2% had touched alcohol on three or more occasions. 

Critics argue that the tags do not address the underlying behavioural problems, but the London scheme aims to address this issue head on. Participants are screened for their suitability so that people who are already alcohol dependent are not forced into abstinence when it would be unrealistic for them. And those who are on the scheme are offered treatment; something the initial Michigan scheme doesn’t. 

Of course, it’s far too early to say whether the technology will have any long-term behavioural impact. However, the feedback received to date has been largely positive. Those involved with the trials, including substance misuse professionals and probation officers, amongst other criminal justice staff, reported that the use of the technology gave offenders a chance to reflect on the actions related to their drinking and change their behaviour. 

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