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Plugs pulled on satellite paedo tracking after pilot flops

Blunkett's 'prison without bars' plan finally fizzles

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The Ministry of Justice has finally, officially, pulled the plugs on David Blunkett's 'prisons without bars' - plans to use satellite tracking to monitor sex offenders have been suspended pending improvements in the technology. Instead, the MoJ plans to use lie detector tests to deal with paedophiles.

In reality, however, the satellite system has been dead for some years. Blunkett's cunning plan to use technology the keep the prison population under control was manifestly unfeasible from the start, and predictably the two year pilot study he kicked off in 2004 revealed (quelle surprise...) that satellite tracking had problems with tall buildings, building interiors, tunnels and the less co-operative offender. Some offenders simply removed the equipment, and one in four of sex offenders freed early to take part in the pilot offended again within a few months.

A study of the scheme was finally published last year, a few months after the split of the Home Office landed the Ministry of Justice with the hot potato and the bulging prison system it hadn't sorted out. In addition to the communications and subversion problems, the report questioned whether tracking could be delivered "at a price which warrants it being rolled out nationally", and pointed to the need for "a much more automated system, capable of providing offender managers and police officers with location information on offenders when they need it but without requiring too much manual intervention by monitoring company staff."

Given the current state of UK police and offender management computer systems, that's clearly a show-stopper.

Rolling out compulsory lie detector tests for sex offenders instead promises to be considerably less complicated. A small voluntary pilot scheme has been deemed a success, and the MoJ now has powers to make tests compulsory. This pilot did however reveal that around 60 per cent of those tested were telling lies, and resulted in probation officers increasing their risk assessment for 81 per cent of the subjects. Which doesn't sound altogether good news if you're trying to keep the prison population down. ®

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