Offenders who are ‘known to reoffend after drinking’ will either be subject to a licence condition that requires them to abstain from alcohol for a year or wear an alcohol tag, the government has announced. ‘Serious and prolific’ drinkers will have to wear tagging devices that measure alcohol levels in their sweat if probation staff believe they are more likely to offend when drinking heavily.
The ‘world-first move’ will allow probation officers to monitor offenders’ behaviour more efficiently and support them to ‘turn their backs on crime’, says the Ministry of Justice, with any breaches of the ban potentially seeing them returned to prison. Judges and magistrates have been able to require people serving community sentences to wear tags since October, with a 97 per cent success rate.
The tags will be used on people under probation supervision after leaving prison in Wales from this month, with the scheme launching in England next year. Approximately 12,000 offenders are expected wear them over the next three years with a ‘significant impact’ on the drinking habits of those leaving prison, says the government. Around a fifth of people supervised by the probation services are classed as having an alcohol problem, with alcohol playing a part in almost 40 per cent of all UK violent crime.
‘This innovative technology has been successful in policing community sentences with offenders complying over 97 per cent of the time,’ said justice secretary Dominic Raab. ‘Rolling the tags out further will help cut alcohol-fuelled crime, which causes untold misery for victims and lands society with a £21bn bill each year. Offenders now have a clear choice. If they don’t work with probation staff to curb their drinking and change their ways, they face being sent back to jail.’
Meanwhile, a joint campaign between Balance and the NHS highlighting the association between alcohol and cancer has been launched across the North East. The ‘Alcohol causes cancer’ campaign, which urges people to cut down their drinking to reduce their risk, is being supported by Cancer Research UK and local authorities.
‘Very few people start out with the intention of drinking heavily, but there’s a dearth of information nationally about the risks,’ said Balance’s head of alcohol policy, Sue Taylor. ‘People do respond to campaigns like these – however unlike tobacco we live in a world where people are bombarded by alcohol advertising, seven days a week and 365 days of the year. This is about challenging pro-alcohol messaging and raising awareness of the links between alcohol and cancer – people have a right to know that alcohol is harmful.’