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Lord Carter: My Lords, at a convenient moment after 3.30 p.m., my noble friend Lord Williams of Mostyn will, with the leave of the House, repeat a Statement that is being made in another place on home detention curfew.

Electronic Monitoring of Offenders

3.40 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement on the electronic monitoring--or tagging--of offenders which is being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary. The Statement is as follows:

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    by second, whether he or she is complying with the curfew. Not only are absences instantly noted, any attempt to tamper with the equipment is detected immediately. Secondly, the two contractors have performed well. Every violation of the curfew conditions is followed up by properly trained and managed staff. Thirdly, sentencers are using tagging as a high level penalty, in many cases for offenders who might otherwise have been sent to custody. It is therefore clear that this technology can offer substantial benefits both for victims and the public.

    "The trial areas for curfew orders made under the provisions of the Criminal Justice Act 1991 are now being extended into four new areas: West Yorkshire, Cambridgeshire, Suffolk and the Middlesex probation area, which covers the London boroughs of Barnet, Brent, Ealing, Enfield, Haringey, Harrow, Hillingdon and Hounslow. In addition, from January 1998, in the pilot areas of Greater Manchester and Norfolk, the courts will be able to impose a curfew order enforced by electronic monitoring as a community punishment on 10 to 15 year-olds, on fine defaulters who would otherwise be sent to prison, and on persistent petty offenders.

    "Let me now turn to how I propose to use electronic tagging in respect of those who have been in prison and who are very near to the end of their sentences. Those who are sentenced to prison often have typically lived very disordered, irresponsible lives. They are poor at making sensible decisions about their own futures or those of their families. In prison, they do not have to. But the moment prisoners come out of prison, they have to make critical decisions about what they do with every moment of the day; whether they drift back into crime, and into the company of their criminal associates, or whether they try to bring order into their lives.

    "Tagging has a key role to play here. If prisoners who are serving short-term sentences are tagged towards the end of the custodial period of their nominal sentence, they can be given the opportunity to structure their lives more effectively, and swiftly brought back to prison if they breach the tagging conditions.

    "The research into the first year of the trials showed that offenders see curfews enforced by tagging as a severe restriction of liberty--just as magistrates and judges do. Some offenders have said they found the self-discipline required to complete such a curfew order made it harder than prison. It also provided opportunities for them to take proper responsibility for working or looking for work, for keeping their families together, and for maintaining self-control.

    "The case for introducing an element of tagging into the last part of a short-term prison sentence is therefore very strong in any event. But it has been reinforced by the recent rise in the prison population. No one wants to see an unnecessarily overcrowded prison system. It would be the height of irresponsibility not to take advantage of modern technology to help prevent that. The alternatives are

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    bound to be at the expense of constructive prison regimes, and at the expense of improving the prisoners' prospects for resettlement: in other words at the expense of the law-abiding public.

    "I have therefore decided to seek Parliament's approval to impose electronic monitoring on selected short-term prisoners in the last two months of their sentence. These orders will be called home detention curfews. The relevant powers will be sought in the forthcoming Crime and Disorder Bill.

    "Home detention curfews will be available for prisoners who have received sentences of more than three-months but less than four years' imprisonment. They will be tagged for between two weeks and two months, according to the length of their original sentence. Currently, under the Criminal Justice Act 1991, such prisoners are automatically released at the half-way point of their sentence. They will therefore in any event shortly be back in the community.

    "There will be no automatic entitlement to tagging. The Prison Service will in each case conduct a risk assessment. If the prisoner fails this risk assessment he or she will continue to serve the sentence in prison until its half-way point, as now. The prison governor will set the place and times of curfew, in consultation, where needed, with the Probation Service. This will usually be 12 hours a day and could be more, but in no cases will be less than nine hours a day. This will enable the prisoner to have a specified period of time each day in which he or she can adjust to living in the community, while still facing a restriction on liberty for a major part of each day. The curfew conditions will be in addition to the supervision requirements with which anyone with a nominal sentence of 12 months or more must comply.

    "If a prisoner breaches the conditions of the home detention curfew he or she can immediately be returned to custody. As with the present trials of curfew orders enforced by tagging, the monitoring will be provided by private sector contractors, and there will be an invitation to tender in due course. Our aim is for the scheme to be operational in 1999.

    "Madam Speaker, at the heart of all my policies as Home Secretary is my commitment to provide better protection for the public and for the victims of crime. I am ready to use every measure at my disposal to deliver that commitment. We now have a real opportunity to use modern technology to provide a much better transition for carefully selected prisoners from prison into the community. With the support of Parliament, I intend to take it."

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

3.51 p.m.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, the House will be grateful for that Statement about the extended use of electronic tagging. I was the Minister who introduced electronic tagging in the latest experiment, which has been incredibly successful. Every survey, even from the earliest days of the pilot scheme, has proved beyond

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doubt that the system works. I am therefore enthusiastic about this. Indeed, the previous government had plans to extend the use of tagging.

However, it is an extraordinary Statement. I suffered mercilessly at the hands of noble Lords opposite over the introduction of tagging in the first place. They fought tooth and nail against its proposed use. Nevertheless, this U-turn is welcome.

I have a number of questions. First, may we have the figures relating to Berkshire? Of the three piloted areas, it is common knowledge that from the start Berkshire courts have been extremely reluctant to use the tagging option. As recently as my last day in office, the figures were pathetically low and it would be helpful to know whether there has been a dramatic turnaround in the use of the tagging option in the Berkshire area.

I believe that this proposal is, sadly, Exchequer-led. It is all about money; it is not about the proper use of sentencing. Introducing tagging as an extra disposal for the courts makes a great deal of sense. I believe that the courts would benefit from having such extended options at their disposal.

What percentage of the prison population is serving a sentence of more than three months but less than four years? I understand that it is a very high percentage, so we are talking about releasing early potentially a very large proportion of our prison population.

It is true that against a background of a crisis in prison numbers a former Secretary of State, now my noble friend Lord Hurd, introduced a five-point plan to Parliament. He received the support of Parliament, including that of the Opposition of the day from the noble Lord, Lord Hattersley. Those five points included creating a temporary secure camp for 360 people; expanding and accelerating the prison building programme; encouraging the private sector (against enormous opposition) to become involved in the prison building programme; considering using powers of executive release but emphatically rejecting them and instead increasing the amount of remission dependent upon good behaviour by those serving sentences of up to and including only 12 months (which meant the less serious offenders) from one-third to one-half of the sentence; and at the same time initiating a wide-ranging review of parole and remission arrangements. That was an interim measure only and, as I said, applied to much less serious offenders. It also addressed an anomaly that was recognised by the courts at the time: that those serving sentences which were too short to qualify them for parole were serving a higher proportion of their sentence than those more serious offenders who qualified for parole.

When we discussed the Crime (Sentences) Bill, noble Lords opposite were absolutely and emphatically opposed to any notion that the Prison Service should assess good behaviour for the purposes of early release. Their view was that the only people qualified to do that work and the only people who should be involved in such work were members of the Parole Board. This is, therefore, a remarkable turnaround by the present Government.

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My next questions are these: is the policy of releasing for the last two months of their sentence those offenders with sentences of over three months but less than four years to become nationwide? If so, by when? What are the costs of extending the tagging policy, not simply to the four areas which include my own area of Cambridgeshire but for the new policy mentioned at the end of the Statement? Where is the money coming from? We are within the two years which have been identified as those during which the Government want to stay within the spending totals of the previous government, so it would be interesting to know whether the money will come from within the Prison Service.

Why not simply extend the tagging curfew option for the courts as an additional disposal both for community sentences, (instead of custody) where appropriate, and for supervision purposes, where I believe that it has a role to play? How many prisoners is it envisaged will be released early by the new policy?

I now have some very important questions which the Minister really must answer. Will any category of prisoner be released? Is it intended that this policy shall operate across the board for those serving sentences of up to four years? Will burglars and sex offenders be included? Will the Probation Service be involved in this period of release? If so, what will the costs be and will the Probation Service be funded to meet the additional supervision period?

At present, anybody breaching a curfew order has to be returned to the courts in order to be returned to prison. Is it now intended that there should be differential treatment of those people on curfew orders? Those sentenced by the courts to curfew orders will have to be returned to the courts to be returned to prison, but somebody who is curfewed in the community on the say-so of a prison officer under the new home detention curfew will be returned to court without any appeal or any reference to the courts. Is it intended that there shall be differential treatment?

On that point, is the extension of curfew by tagging order for up to 12 hours a day, which will clearly be broken by the new policy, to extend beyond 12 hours a day, for those already the subject of curfew orders? Is it envisaged that that will apply only to those who fall into this category under the new home detention curfew and not to those who are sentenced by the courts? Is it intended that that 12-hour period shall be extended?

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