18 January 2022

Warnings over curfew risk for domestic abuse victims

18 January 2022

Domestic abusers are being put on curfews which require them to stay at home with their victims, according to a report.

Inspectors raised serious concerns about the findings and said parts of the Probation Service’s electronic tagging programme required “urgent improvements” to keep people safe.

The Inspectorate of Probation report said: “Most concerningly, we saw incidences of curfew requirements being made that resulted in domestic abuse perpetrators being electronically curfewed to reside with potential victims.”

The Probation Service must look at this issue urgently – it does not make sense to place people on curfew in homes where they could pose a risk to others

Chief inspector of probation Justin Russell said this was a “very worrying and concerning situation” and while he was not aware of examples of further crimes being committed as a result of this arrangement, he warned there was “clearly very serious potential for that to have happened”.

“Specific cases” of such curfew arrangements were found in a sample of 172 reviewed as part of the inspection in six areas of England and Wales during July and August last year.

Mr Russell said this “implies it is happening more widely”.

Domestic abuse checks were not being properly carried out for both home detention curfew and community orders, he said, adding: “The Probation Service must look at this issue urgently – it does not make sense to place people on curfew in homes where they could pose a risk to others.”

Domestic abuse checks were only carried out in 37% of cases before an electronic tag was imposed by a court for community sentences and in 68% of home detention curfews, according to the findings.

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) said the home detention curfew policy is being reviewed to ensure appropriate safeguards are in place to protect victims and the public.

The inspection found the department’s multi-million pound electronic monitoring programme is “not delivering to its full potential”, with tagging often “underused”.

Only 28% of probation officers considered in the findings had been trained on the potential uses of electronic monitoring, Mr Russell said.

Criminals on probation can be subject to electronic monitoring as a condition of their release from prison or as part of a community sentence.

Commonly known as “tags”, they can be used to track an individual’s movements or to test for alcohol intake.

Around 8,000 people in England and Wales are tagged at any one time, according to the latest figures cited by the report.

Probation officers do not have direct access to live GPS data if they want to check where someone they are supervising has been, Mr Russell said.

They had to request the information which could take up to three days to be provided, even in cases involving high risk offenders, after plans to allow officers access to real-time information were “abandoned”.

It is understood the MoJ is seeking to address this problem when service contracts are up for renewal in 2024.

The inspection also looked at the success so far of recently introduced sobriety tags, which are hoped to help “problem drinkers” whose alcohol consumption is linked to their offending.

Mr Russell said while any drinking during the period of abstinence is meant to be considered a breach, some officers have taken a more “flexible” approach and used the signs of someone starting to drink again as a means of trying to persuade them to moderate and reduce this.

A MoJ spokesman said: “Our innovative use of tags is world-leading and we are spending an extra £183 million to double the number of people tagged by 2025.

“Now that the Probation Service is a single organisation it will be much easier to ensure frontline staff use tagging more often and more consistently to keep the public safe.”

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