London to roll out sobriety tags

Ankle monitors measure booze levels in perspiration of offenders on alcohol abstinence orders

Offenders under legal orders to stay off the hard stuff are likely to face a new type of monitoring in London.

2A pilot on the use of 'sobriety tags' is to be extended around the city with the support of funding from the Ministry of Justice (MoJ).

It is contributing £400,000 towards rolling out the scheme around the capital over the next 12 months, adding to £450,000 provided by the London Mayor's Office for Policing and Crime (Mopac).

The transdermal tags are fixed to the ankles of offenders who are on alcohol abstinence orders due to committing crimes such as assault, being drunk and disorderly and drunk driving.

They monitor alcohol levels in the offender's perspiration every 30 minutes during working hours, and retain the data for a month. The offender has to report to a base station, usually in their home, at fixed times every day to upload the data.

It is then transmitted wirelessly to Alcohol Monitoring Systems (AMS), the service provider to the Mayor's Office.

Breach response

AMS provides the data to the National Probation Service or London Community Rehabilition Company, and if an offender breaches a sobriety order they can be returned to court and maybe subject to further sanctions, such as a fine or fresh sentencing. They could also be sent back to court if they fail to upload the data as expected or are caught tampering with the monitor.

The Mayor's Office said that if there is a breach it would be picked up in a day, or if it happens on a Friday it would be the following Monday.

The MoJ said that persistent non-compliance could lead to a prison sentence.

Offenders on the scheme will be selected according to their circumstances; for example, it is not aimed at people who are alcohol dependent and who need specialist support. All offenders subject to the requirement should receive advice on alcohol consumption and signposting to relevant advice agencies.

The initial pilot took place over 18 months in four London boroughs – Croydon, Lambeth, Southwark and Sutton – and showed a 92% compliance rate on 113 alcohol abstinence orders each lasting for 120 days. The Mayor's Office said this is better than the rates for other community orders.

Success report

Iain Anderson, deputy director of rehabilitation at the London Community Rehabilitation Company, said: “In the initial trials, the sobriety tag has already proved hugely successful in helping those convicted of alcohol-related crime to deal with the damaging impact of alcohol.

“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.”

The extended pilot will be reviewed in 12 months before any decision on further funding.