Marc Jones: ‘Sobriety’ tags on offenders who commit crimes while under the influence of alcohol can makes us safer

21 Sep

Marc Jones is the Police and Crime Commissioner for Lincolnshire

Alcohol fuelled crime has always been and remains a significant concern across the United Kingdom.

Creative thinking and a determination to find new solutions by Conservative Ministers and Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) has provided a genuine opportunity for change which must be grasped.

This year the Government is rolling out a programme to allow courts to impose ‘sobriety’ tags on offenders who commit crimes while under the influence of alcohol. These tags are a true innovative game changer in supporting real behavioural change that can help make our communities safer than ever before.

From May this year, Magistrates’ and Crown Courts can require offenders to wear the tags by executing an Alcohol Abstinence Monitoring Requirement (AAMR) as part of a community or suspended sentence.

These tags perform around-the-clock monitoring of an offender’s sweat to determine whether alcohol has been consumed and if the presence of alcohol is detected in the system, probation services are alerted, and the individual is sent back to court.

No-one should be in any doubt that innovation is needed in the approach to this problem which is a blight on communities across the UK.

Crime fuelled by alcohol is estimated to cost £11 billion per year in England and Wales, with 40 per cent of all violent incidents are committed by those believed to be under the influence of alcohol rising even higher in a domestic setting.

In 2018, a staggering 8,700 people were killed or injured in crashes involving at least one drink driver on our roads. How many innocent lives were torn apart?

Excessive alcohol is not just an issue for the criminal justice system. Public Health England (PHE) estimated that in 2018/19 there were 358,000 estimated admissions where the main reason for admission to hospital was attributable to alcohol.

The overall social and economic cost of alcohol-related harm is calculated by PHE as £21.5bn per year and with the total budget for the NHS standing at £130bn next year the scale of the problem is obvious.

While we recognise solutions are required are sobriety tags a solution? Well, on their own they cannot provide a panacea, I can testify that they do work – and have made significant improvements to the lives and wellbeing of my constituents in Lincolnshire.

I was one of three PCCs to run the first tagging scheme outside London to trial the technology and the support system that works alongside it and the results have been astonishing.

A review of the project carried out for my office found that of the 226 individuals issued with an AAMR order a staggering 94 per cent successfully completed the order and 97.4% of all the days monitored were free of alcohol.

One offender claimed the wearing of a tag gave him three months sobriety in which his life has changed forever as it gave him the space he needed to seek help for his issues.

Much praise for this initiative should go to Kit Malthouse, the Minister of State for Crime and Policing.

During a lecture in Oxford University, Malthouse first heard of an experiment in South Dakota which was utilising such tags to tackle drink driving.

Malthouse, Deputy Mayor of London and de facto PCC at the time, quickly identified the ingenuity of such a system and a decade later we are now seeing his determination to bring this initiative forward pay dividends.

Now it is the turn of Police and Crime Commissioners to see this project through. Since 2012 PCC’s have a unique remit to protect and improve the communities they serve.

Unlike Chief Constables, a PCC has the responsibility to look beyond the operational necessities of fighting crime on a daily basis and to work with agencies and partners to explore and commission new ways to safeguard residents through crime prevention and rehabilitation in the long term.

This project offers that opportunity.

If I haven’t convinced you of the worth of this system then listen to the words of one offender who wore a sobriety tag during the pilot project in Lincolnshire:

“Since I had the tag removed I feel 100% in control of my drinking. I was worried to begin with that when I had the tag taken off I might go back to drinking again but the process gave me a better understanding of alcohol. I also didn’t want to go back to court.

“I no longer need a drink to manage my emotions which is down to the tag and my probation officer – I’m much happier with my life now and pleased that more people can benefit from my experience of wearing the tags.”

As Malthouse so eloquently says:

“This policy represents a revolution in our approach to alcohol crime, and part of the solution to a stubborn and ugly domestic abuse problem”.

“More importantly, it’s simple, corrective and it works.”

I could not agree more.