As pilot trials of electronic monitoring of offenders are due to start in spring, the Penal Affairs Consortium (PAC) has given the initiative a thumbs down.
PAC, which is an alliance of 24 bodies, says the evidence so far shows that electronic tagging does little to divert offenders from crime or from prison.
A PAC report says that in court-ordered experiments in 1989 with bailed defendants, the courts identified few people as suitable for monitoring, according to a Home Office report. And of the 50 monitored in three courts, 11 offended while on bail and a further 18 violated the conditions of their bail in other ways. The trials cost u700,000, equal to u14,000 per person monitored.
The tagged individual wore an anklet fitted with a low powered radio transmitter. If the person was not at home at the court stipulated time and a radio signal not received by the monitoring station via a unit on the home telephone, the police were informed of a bail violation.
Other problems were the social stigma of wearing the anklet, including making it more difficult to get jobs. It also resulted in friction within families due to the enforced periods at home.
This week the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act provisions for the introduction of curfew orders enforced by tagging come into effect on an area-by-area basis. Pilot trials in March or April are planned for Manchester, Norfolk and Reading, at a cost of u1.4 million.
The National Association of Probation Officers' Harry Fletcher says: "Electronic monitoring failed to affect the remand population in 1990. The new trials will neither reduce crime nor help rehabilitation. The concept fails to take account of the chaotic nature of offenders' life styles." He adds that to expect them to respond to house arrest is to expect them to fail.
"Electronic shackles are a gimmick," says Frances Cook of the Howard League for Penal Reform. "Tags will not prevent one crime."