‘Sobriety tags’ come into force Image Open Government Licence v3.0

An estimated 39% of violent crime in England and Wales involves an offender under the influence of alcohol

Criminals who commit alcohol-fuelled crime may be banned from drinking and made to wear ‘sobriety tags’ after new legislation comes into force today (19 May 2020).

The ankle tags perform around-the-clock monitoring of an offender’s sweat to determine whether alcohol has been consumed.

If they drink – breaching their alcohol abstinence order – they can be returned to court for further sanctions. These might range from a fine, extending the length of the order or in some cases imprisonment.

This follows two pilots, one across Humberside, Lincolnshire and North Yorkshire, and another in London, which showed offenders were alcohol free on 97% of the days monitored. Wearers also reported a positive impact on their lives, wellbeing and behaviour.

Courts will be able to order offenders to wear a tag for up to 120 days. The tough community sentence not only punishes offenders but aids their rehabilitation by forcing them to address the causes of their behaviour – in turn helping to reduce alcohol-related harm.

Bedfordshire Police’s Superintendent David Cestaro, Local Policing – Community, told the Cranfield and Marston Vale Chronicle:

“With an estimated two-fifths of violent crime involving alcohol, any initiative to prevent such is welcome.

“This particular initiative has been successfully trialled and accordingly announced by the Policing Minister as fit for national roll-out. That is dependent on training of probation officers and contract negotiations, with an aspiration that it is delivered this year.

“Bedfordshire experiences similar levels of alcohol-connected violence as elsewhere, so whilst numbers of sobriety orders may be in low double figures per annum in the county, this may still be a useful means to address individuals’ relationship with alcohol, reduce offending and, most importantly, lead to fewer victims.

“With implementation being probation-led, we do not envisage much cost to policing, other than in enforcing breaches.

“In this Mental Health Awareness Week, and amidst the extra stress placed on people during lockdown, and being mindful that alcohol is often used as a form of self-medication, we particularly welcome a promising initiative to counter its harmful side-effects.”

Tag samples the offender’s sweat every half-hour

An estimated 39% of violent crime involves an offender under the influence of alcohol. Public Health England estimates that the total social and economic cost of alcohol-related harm was £21.5 billion (2018)

The technology works by fitting a tag around the ankle of an offender. This samples their sweat every half-hour to determine whether alcohol has been consumed.

The tags can distinguish between alcohol-based products, such as hand sanitiser, that could be used to mask alcohol consumption. They can also detect when contact to the skin has been blocked.

An offender who wore one of the tags in the Humberside, Lincolnshire and North Yorkshire pilot scheme said:

“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.”

The Ministry of Justice will start a national roll out of the Alcohol Abstinence Monitoring Requirement from Winter 2020. The tags will not be used on people who are alcohol-dependent or have certain medical conditions.