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Nearly 3,000 offenders in England and Wales fitted with sobriety tag this Christmas

Nearly 3,000 offenders in England and Wales fitted with sobriety tag this Christmas

The number of offenders being fitted with “sobriety tags” that can tell probation officers if they have been drinking and potentially land them back in jail has increased by more than 47% this Christmas, government figures show.

There were about 2,800 people in England and Wales wearing the tags this year compared with 1,900 last year after the government said it would increase use of the devices aimed at reducing alcohol-fuelled crime.

Initial data shows that offenders fitted with the tags managed to stay sober 97% of the time on average. The devices can detect if an offender has been drinking by analysing their sweat.

Government investment will nearly double the number of defendants on tags at any one time from 13,500 in 2021 to 25,000 by 2025.

If an offender has had a drink an alert will be sent to the probation officer who can take action. The tags are so accurate they will not be triggered by foods that contain alcohol, but alcoholic drinks will raise the alarm and offenders face being sent to prison.

About 39% of all violent crime in the UK involves alcohol, including domestic abuse, which can rise during the festive period, figures provided by charities such as Women’s Aid show.

The justice secretary, Alex Chalk KC, said: “The festive season is a time of celebration but a small minority can take it too far. We’re keeping communities safe by tagging a record number of offenders this Christmas period. These innovative alcohol tags act as an important deterrent to offenders and come with a clear message: step out of line and you could end up behind bars.”

The devices are part of the government’s £156m investment in tagging technology which means the UK has remained among the world leaders in the use of tags to fight crime and keep people safe.

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The tags were first rolled out in 2020 as a punishment for alcohol-fuelled crimes and are also used to help keep the public safe from offenders considered likely to commit crimes when drunk.

Roughly 20% of offenders on probation are classed as having a drinking problem, so tags play a part in helping to cut alcohol-fuelled crime, which causes untold misery for victims and lands society with a £21bn bill each year.

It comes after the justice secretary vowed to consider tougher community sentences amid concerns from MPs on all sides of the house that proposed plans to address prison overcrowding would allow more offenders to escape punishment.

The former home secretary Priti Patel said proposals risked “letting some types of offenders off the hook”, and the former policing minister Kit Malthouse urged ministers to look at “alternative disposals to prison … to satisfy that requirement from victims for there to be a sense of punishment”.

The measures include expanding the so-called home detention curfew scheme to make some offenders sentenced to more than four years eligible for release on a tag up to six months before their scheduled release date.

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