Offenders convicted of alcohol-related crimes will be forced to wear ankle tags to monitor whether they are still drinking, under a new pilot scheme in London.
The ankle tags, much like the ankle tags currently worn to monitor a suspect’s movements while released on bail will record the levels of alcohol in their sweat.
The 12-month trial in four London boroughs – Croydon, Lambeth, Southwark and Sutton – gives the courts the ability to ban people from drinking alcohol.
Up to 150 people are expected to be made to wear the tags for four months to make sure they comply with abstinence.
The aim of the pilot scheme, believed to be the first of its kind in the UK, is to reduce the cost and harm to the general public caused by excess drinking. A recent Home Office report has estimated that about one million violent crimes a year in England and Wales are linked to alcohol abuse.
For the next twelve months courts in the four boroughs will be able to impose “alcohol abstinence and monitoring requirements” on people who commit crimes while inebriated.
Offenders who are subject to the orders will have to wear an anklet known as a transdermal tag. If the alcohol level in their sweat shows they have been drinking alcohol, they may face further penalties.
At least one hundred and fifty offenders are expected to be fitted with the tags, including motorists who are repeatedly convicted of drink-driving and people who cause trouble after drinking too much in pubs and clubs.
The trial is the first of its kind in the UK, but the bracelets are widely used in the US.
The bracelets measure alcohol levels in water vapour on the surface of the skin. The measurements are recorded automatically every 30 minutes.
Infrared and temperature sensors ensure that any tampering with the device can be easily identified, for example someone who is wearing the tag cannot remove the tag or slide something between the skin and the tag or the authorities will be notified.
Although they are bulky and have to be worn around the ankle next to the skin, users of the devices say they are quickly forgotten.
The devices are not waterproof and those wearing them must shower rather than take a bath.
Supporters of the device say that the device can be used to help parents prove their sobriety and resist the temptation to drink.
Researchers from Brunel University found mothers with alcohol related issues who assisted by the court were more likely to be reunited with their children.
Although a formal evaluation of the device has yet to take place, one parent who spoke to the BBC, but did not wish to be named, said she believed it was a major factor in her not drinking alcohol in six months.
The UK suppliers of the ankle bracelets say they are no more expensive than other methods of testing for alcohol, but provide the court with more useful information, but in reality will the courts accept this device as proof of evidence.
We suspect that there will always be a need for legal alcohol testing with a full chain of custody for the samples being taken.