UK: Crimes committed while drunk may be punished with ‘sobriety tags'

England & Wales could soon experiment with enforced sobriety

12-Abstain-from-alcohol Representational image

Alcohol and crime often go hand in hand. From Tuesday, England and Wales will experiment with a novel method of keeping crime rates down—by ensuring criminals stay sober via the use of ‘sobriety bracelets’.

As per new legislation that comes into force from Tuesday, those who are convicted of "alcohol-fuelled" crimes could be required to wear an ankle monitor for up to 120 days, which will monitor whether there is any alcohol in their sweat. If detected, they face action from the probationary service, which could include a fine or in extreme cases a prison sentence.

Two pilots of the scheme have already been conducted, in Humberside, Lincolnshire and North Yorkshire, and another in London, seeing 94 per cent of offenders remain alcohol-free during their monitoring period. The first tags under the new scheme are expected to be fitted later this year as the measures are rolled out in the winter.

“The technology works by fitting a tag around the ankle of an offender. This then samples their sweat every half-hour to determine whether alcohol has been consumed. They can distinguish between alcohol-based products, such as hand sanitiser, that could be used to mask alcohol consumption and can detect when contact between the skin and the tag has been blocked,” the government said in a release.

The policy was announced by Crime, Policing and Justice Minister Kit Malthouse, who said “Alcohol-fuelled crime blights communities and puts an unnecessary strain on our frontline services.”

Malthouse said he was inspired by a 2010 Oxford Policing Policy Forum event, where he learned about a similar project conducted in South Dakota in the United States, the South Dakota ‘24/7 Sobriety Program’. The project was monitored by twice-a-day breathalyser tests, with ‘skip or fail you go to jail’ policy regarding testing for the same.

According to Malthouse, who was deputy mayor for policing in London at the time, nearly 40 per cent of violent crime including street violence and domestic abuse is fuelled by alcohol, costing the state over £20 billion a year.

Requiring certain criminals to abstain from alcohol has been part of law since the Alcohol Abstinence Monitoring Requirement (AAMR) was introduced in sections 76 and 77 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO) Act in 2012.

Under the new measures, courts in England and Wales can hand out an "alcohol abstinence order" mandating convicts to abstain from consuming alcohol for up to four months. Exceptions, however, will be made for those with medical reasons to drink including those who have become alcohol-dependent.

The Ministry of Justice expects 2,300 tags to be fitted to offenders each year.