Blog: London’s electronic tagging pilot – will it work?

Date 18.02.2019

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan announced that the capital is trialing the use of electronic tagging with offenders on release in the community for knife-related crimes. Our ‘eye on crime’, Jessica Ritchie, Lecturer in Criminology, blogs about the effectiveness of this plan.


The trial starts today, 18 February 2019, with up to 100 offenders. To be included offenders need to:

  • be aged 18 years or older
  • to have served a custodial sentence for knife-related crimes (for example knife possession, robbery, wounding, grievous bodily harm, and aggravated burglary)
  • be living in the four London boroughs of Lewisham, Lambeth, Croydon, and Southwark
  • be deemed likely to reoffend.

Offenders will have their electronic tagging data compared against locations of reported crime.

The trial is being run for three purposes: to reduce the likelihood of reoffending, help with the rehabilitation of offenders and improve crime detection rates through data-sharing.

When we consider the research behind each of these purposes, we come up short. When we explore whether reoffending is reduced through the use of electronic tagging – the research finds ‘if it reduces at all, probably not much.’

Further, electronic tagging can be considered punishment on the cheap and does not serve as a rehabilitation tool. While having offenders in the community rather than prison may save some money in some instances, it does not consider the cost of monitoring the data that is received.

The devices cost £250 but this is not the end of the financial investment. A private organisation has been contracted to manage the tagging contract the data.

On their website it states that they have been evaluated by a charitable organisation and been shown to reduce crime and re-offending. However, a search of both of their websites does not readily provide specific details about how an evaluation was conducted nor any results beyond ‘has been shown to reduce crime and re-offending.’ I sent a request for these details; while I have received responses, details of the evaluation have not been provided.

It is stated that because the tag collects comprehensive daily data, they can use this data to change offender behaviour through meetings about their patterns of behaviour. However, tracking of offenders has been used since about 1997 and evaluations have not been able to demonstrate that they reduce offending, nor act as a rehabilitation tool.

Mayor Khan recognised in his statement that:

“The causes of violent crime are extremely complex and involve deep-seated problems – such as poverty, inequality, social alienation and a lack of opportunities for young people – that enforcement alone won’t solve and have been made much worse by huge Government cuts to the police and preventative services.”

If this is recognised, why are the government investing funds in a process which is not supported by the research to reduce reoffending or rehabilitate offenders? Some short-term compliance does not bring about long-term change – we need to focus on processes that will bring about change in offenders.

The Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC) is funding the pilot, so it will be interesting to see if a well-designed evaluation program will be run and results released to the public.

(Thanks to my third-year criminology students for bringing this news to my attention!)

Find out more about Criminology (Ba) at University of Northampton.