Compulsory Sobriety Tag Pilot

Compulsory sobriety tags were piloted in London and then expanded to North Yorkshire, Humberside and Lincolnshire to try to tackle a variety of alcohol-related night crimes such as alcohol-fuelled assault.

We spoke with Amit Sethi, EU Head of Operations, who provided an overview of his work and their 2014 pilot with MOPAC. 

SCRAM Systems provide four key products: the Continuous Alcohol Monitoring (CAM) tag, Remote Breath, SCRAM GPS, and House Arrest tags. Their products are aimed for use in the criminal justice system.  Across the world there are more than 35,000 people being monitored through these devices. Prior to their usage in the UK, SCRAM Systems had been running for more than 10 years in the USA, where it continues to operate. The CAM tags can detect alcohol as it comes out of the pores.

The pilot

In 2014, MOPAC commissioned a pilot of compulsory sobriety tags to tackle the ‘night time economy’ of alcohol-related night crimes such as alcohol-fuelled assault. It was rolled out via Croydon and Camberwell magistrates. The aims of the pilot was to actually test the equipment and see if it would work, to see if magistrates would actually use them, and to see if they would actually be enforced. Amit says the pilot was really successful and succeeded in delivering positive results and fulfilling the aims of the pilot.

In the first year, he reports that there was 92% compliance with the tag and those who didn’t comply would go on to be prosecuted. There were also no trials that took place in the first year, which Amit states is indicative of the success of tags. Despite the pilot being commissioned to mainly tackle ‘night time crime’, the magistrates’ courts were using it for a wider spectrum of cases which was a positive development and demonstrated the wider scope of usage for these tags.

The roll-out

From April 2016 to January 2017, it was then rolled out all across London after its evident success. Then another pilot was started in North Yorkshire, Humberside and Lincolnshire. The Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) gave funding for this. The usage of the tags differed slightly in the North as its approach was much more rehabilitative than punitive and the tag was part of a wider response to crime. This is similar to the how the tags are used in the US where there is a focus on changing behaviour as the tag is combined with treatment for dependent drinkers. There was recognition in London of the wider benefits and impact that the tag could have, and was having, rather than just being punitive.

In North Yorkshire, the tag was selected as part of combination orders at sentencing so it was not specifically just punitive. The CRCs oversee delivery of the Alcohol Abstinence Monitoring Requirement in this area with support from the Ministry of Justice and PCCs. In London it could be a stand-alone order with the point being that it was to be a punitive measure. Where the US models and the UK pilots combined alcohol monitoring with other rehabilitative measures, it indicated other potential benefits to offenders. Amit acknowledges that this is the kind of model that they would like to see, i.e. alcohol monitoring combined with intervention and/or treatment.

The longest an individual would wear the tag under an AAMR is 120 days and across England more than 1,400 orders have been imposed to date.

In London, the MOPAC pilot was extended but ended in 2018, a final evaluation may be produced in the future. As for North Yorkshire, it began in June 2017 and was expanded in June 2018 to incorporate a larger geographic area. These pilots were the first time courts were directly addressing alcohol misuse for non-dependent drinkers.

When discussing challenges, Amit explained that this work started within a month of Transforming Rehabilitation but despite the difficulties and changes it has been successful. The changes across probation, particularly in London, were very constant and whilst this can encourage innovation, the upheaval also inhibits it and consistency has not been uniform.


This case-study was compiled and edited by Jaskirat Mann in 2018