Upgrading electronic monitoring, downgrading probation

Upgrading electronic monitoring, downgrading probation: Reconfiguring ‘offender management’ in England and Wales

From European Journal of Probation

Under the Coalition Government which came to power in Britain in May 2010, major changes in the community supervision of offenders are underway in England and Wales. Under the new contract for electronic monitoring (EM) (the third since 1999), the government is planning a huge increase in the use of GPS tracking by 2015. Using GPS tracking could well come to be seen as a more reliable and credible way of ‘doing’ offender management. The government is planning to create the largest and most advanced electronic monitoring (EM) scheme in the world, using combined GPS tracking and radio frequency technology. Using a mix of published and unpublished sources, discussions with some key players in these developments, (and a ‘critical policy analysis’ perspective), this article begins by documenting the post-2010 development of GPS tracking, and the emergence of strong police support for its large-scale use.

 

 

Abstract

England and Wales is currently privatizing most of its Probation Service and simultaneously planning to create the largest and most advanced electronic monitoring (EM) scheme in the world, using combined GPS tracking and radio frequency technology. Downgrading one, upgrading the other. Using a mix of published and unpublished sources, discussions with some key players in these developments, (and a ‘critical policy analysis’ perspective), this article begins by documenting the post-2010 development of GPS tracking, and the emergence of strong police support for its large-scale use. It notes the role of a right-wing think tank, Policy Exchange, in promoting the view that the GPS-based tracking of offenders’ movements is an intrinsically superior form of ‘electronic monitoring’ that should fully replace the discredited but still prevailing radio frequency EM, which can only restrict people to a single location. In the course of devising a third contract with commercial organizations to deliver EM, it transpired that the incumbent providers had been systematically overcharging the government for their services. Although a public scandal, and a series of official enquires – summarized here – resulted from this, the general momentum behind the outsourcing of penal interventions has not been slowed: the Conservative-led Coalition government is pursuing a relentlessly neoliberal agenda, driven far more by financial imperatives and technological preferences than anything that makes proper penal sense. The creation of a large, advanced GPS-based EM programme may not in fact work out in practice, but the government’s readiness to envision it shows where untrammelled neoliberalism points in respect of ‘offender management’ techniques. Although England and Wales have always been anomalous in their fully privatized delivery of EM, its preparedness to invest massively in GPS tracking and to simultaneously sacrifice the state-based Probation Service should serve to warn other European services of the penal challenges that neoliberalism may present them with.

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Article details
Mike Nellis
Upgrading electronic monitoring, downgrading probation: Reconfiguring ‘offender management’ in England and Wales European Journal of Probation August 2014 6: 169-191, doi:10.1177/2066220314540572

 

 

     
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