Rory Geoghegan is the author of Policy Exchange's report, Future of Corrections. Follow Rory on Twitter.
Chris Grayling says he wants to be "the Tough Justice Secretary". He should also be smart. Driving cost out of prisons is the right thing to do but there are other pressing issues. There is something he can fix today: a £3bn procurement fiasco that risks putting the public at unneccessary risk and tying the hands of police and probation to prevent and detect crime for another decade.
In Future of Corrections, published by Policy Exchange today, I outline how the tagging regime devised originally by the Home Office, and today managed by the Ministry of Justice, is failing to achieve results. I'm not alone – Her Majesty's Inspectorates of Constabulary and Probation have both stated that tagging providers are "meeting the contract but missing the point" when it comes to electronic monitoring. They are right – but the underlying issue is not greedy multinationals, but a botched and flawed procurement that has cost the taxpayer almost £1bn over the last 13 years. Our research shows how the decision to fully outsource the service has excluded police and probation from innovating or even acting on breaches. Over the same period, a different approach could have seen an additional 1,200 police officers or 2,000 probation officers dedicated to monitoring offenders on tag, disrupting criminality and supporting those who do the right thing.
Our report makes clear that the current procurement process – worth up to £3bn to the lucky bidders – needs to be terminated if we are to tackle the very real issues identified by countless Parliamentary Select Committees and Inspectorate Reviews. The procurement must be replaced with a new localised approach, that in time provides Police and Crime Commissioners, or the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC) in London, with the freedom to opt-out of national provision and commission services locally, in order to involve and empower frontline police and probation officers.
We surveyed police forces and probation trusts, 51% of whom believed they could get a better deal and better service by commissioning tagging services locally. Given 1 in 4 police forces believe the current regime is ineffective, real change is needed.
Professionals on the front line need to be involved, and the technology should be fit for the purpose. We visited the United States and saw how law enforcement officers can monitor their offenders online, both in and out of the office, with ease. It's only right that our professionals enjoy the same freedom to get on with the job and innovate.
If Chris Grayling wants to signal that he is not just tough on crime but also smart, he'll untie the hands of police and probation, allowing them to use tagging to fight and prevent crime. It’s simply not good enough to say that the new flawed procurement process will deliver “better value” – there is much more at stake. Police and probation will salute him for being bold – as should anyone who wants to make Britain safer.
He should look to adopt our proposals for a tagging regime that provides these local freedoms and will finally give crimefighters, rather than pen-pushers, the upperhand in the fight against prolific criminals, including burglars, robbers and car thieves.