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Blunkett pilot to track offenders via satellite

Pilot scheme for tagged ne'er-do-wells

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David Blunkett is set to launch a year-long pilot study of his plan to track offenders by satellite. The system will allow police to monitor the movements of the tagged person 24 hours a day, and will give their location to within just a few metres

The scheme is designed for those who have served part of a custodial sentence and have been released, and those who have been given a curfew, for example. The idea is that the tracking devices would be fitted to people that police and probation officers feel are likely to contact their victims, or break the terms of their release from jail: sex-offenders, wife beaters and persistent offenders, for example.

The trial will involve up to 120 convicted criminals from three regions of the country. Each will be fitted with a tracking device about the size of a video cassette on a belt around the waist, and a second device on the ankle. The video sized box sends a signal to the satellite which then informs police of the wearers location. the ankle device monitors the transmitter to make sure it is not tampered with.

Monitoring criminals using this system will cost between £3 and £7 per day, depending on how closely the target's movements are being tracked. Constant monitoring is possible, but so is a recording of a person's movements, reviewed at the end of a 24 hour period.

As we reported earlier this year, there are plenty of potential problems with a scheme like this. It is not trivial to differentiate between deliberate absconders and those who unwittingly move out of areas covered by the GPS system. And to a degree, the success of tracking someone relies on them co-operating with the scheme and not trying to fool it in some way.

To avoid being tracked, all a tagged person need do is remove the tracking devices - presumably something that could be accomplished quite quickly with a sharp enough instrument. Police might well be alerted to the tampering, but they still won't know where to find the offender, because they won't be being tracked anymore.

More importantly, tagging a criminal does not prevent them from committing crimes, nor does it help in bringing them to account for those crimes.

In December last year, a 39-year-old teacher was stabbed while jogging in a London park. Her attacker was wearing an electronic tag at the time, and was eventually arrested and convicted - not because of the tag, but because a friend turned him in. ®

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