Ankle tags to monitor court-imposed drinking bans in bid to cut crime

Offenders have told ITV News' Kevin Ashford how the ankle tag technology has helped to change their lives

ITV has been given exclusive access to ankle tag technology that monitors drinking bans imposed on offenders by the courts.

The tags detect alcohol in the wearer's sweat with the readings automatically sent back to a monitoring centre.

The government says it's part of a programme targeting alcohol-fuelled crime, which costs £21 billion a year. The tags are being worn as part of community sentences handed down the courts, and can also be used as a licence condition for prison leavers.

Anthony Leydon has been wearing an alcohol-detecting tag as a condition of his early release from prison. In the past, his abuse of alcohol led to law-breaking but Anthony says the tag has changed his life.

He said, "It's given me the foundation, that extra support knowing that I can't go back because if I did breach the tag, I could be recalled."

"I'm treating it as a positive not as a negative because these programmes are designed to put you in a better place."

The government says 97% of offenders have stayed sober on the days they've been tagged.

However, the head of a Bristol-based addiction support organisation said it was a short-sighted approach.

Reporter Kevin Ashford wears an ankle tag to demonstrate how the alcohol detection technology works. Credit: ITV

Chloe Duff who's the CEO of the Hawkspring Drug and Alcohol Service said: "If somebody is fearful that they'll go back to prison, it might stop them from drinking from that period of time."

"But it's not addressing the root causes of why that person is drinking too much and why they're behaving the way they do when they drink. So I think it's it's just like putting a plaster on a deep wound."

Damian Hinds who's the Prisons, Parole and Probation Minister said the tags aren't aimed at people who are dependent on alcohol - they are for offenders who are in a position to stop their alcohol use.

He said: "It's only one part of the of the arsenal that we have at our disposal. But because alcohol is such a factor in such a high proportion of crimes, it is an important part of that approach."

Graph showing detection of alcohol consumption by ankle tag technology Credit: ITV

To demonstrate for the first time on UK television how the technology works, I consumed alcohol while wearing one of the tags. A small percentage of the alcohol is released through sweat - it can take 30-60 minutes before it becomes detectable.

The ankle tag technology, which has been used for a number of years in countries like the United States, registers even very low alcohol consumption. It can also distinguish between drinking and environmental exposure to alcohol - such as spillages - as well as being able to record whether the tag has been tampered with.

The following day, I was shown the results of the tag-wearing with my pattern of alcohol consumption visible on a graph. Alcohol was first detected about fifty minutes after I had started drinking. The graph also showed a separate peak where I'd had a glass of wine later in the day.

The alcohol tags are part of a £183 million government investment over the next three years in tagging technology - it's expected 12,000 tagging orders will be issued over that period.

Support for anyone struggling with alcohol addiction can be found via a number of organisations, including:

  • Alcoholics Anonymous offers advice and support via its free helpline (0800 9177 650) with additional resources available on its official website.

  • Alcohol Change UK offers information and support options for people worried about how much alcohol they are drinking, in both English and Welsh.

  • TalkToFrank offers confidential advice and information about drugs, their effects and the law. Anyone interested in speaking to a specialist call handler can do so through the organisation's helpline (0300 1236600).