Sobriety bracelets head wave of new penalty enforcements

 

Offenders would be fitted with "sobriety bracelets" to check for alcohol in their blood under plans to toughen up community sentences to be launched by the Government.

They could also be monitored for 24 hours a day using satellite technology in an attempt to ensure they abide by their court conditions.

Moves to beef up community sentences by introducing an automatic punitive element, such as tagging or unpaid work, will be announced in the Queen's Speech on 9 May. Offenders could expect to be jailed if they breached the terms of their sentences.

The proposals are being personally championed by David Cameron in an apparent recognition that Kenneth Clarke, the Justice Secretary, has allowed himself to be portrayed as soft on law and order. However, they are also an admission that more sentences will need to be served in the community because of the pressure on jails.

The prison population in England and Wales stood at 87,870 yesterday , an increase of 216 in a week and more than 2,400 higher than a year ago.

The idea of fitting bracelets to offenders with drink-related problems has been used in the United States – most famously when the actress Lindsay Lohan was ordered to wear one after failing to appear in court on charges of driving under the influence of alcohol.

The devices, usually tagged to the ankle, work by measuring air and perspiration emissions from the skin every 30 minutes and can record blood alcohol levels as low as 0.02 per cent.

Trials are planned in London and the West of Scotland, but Government sources yesterday signalled support for the bracelets to be fitted on offenders across England and Wales.

They also gave their provisional backing to offenders on community sentences being tagged and tracked by GPS technology. Supporters argue that it deters criminals from returning to their old ways, and can monitor the whereabouts of sex offenders.

Mr Cameron, speaking as he returned from a three-day visit to the United States, said: "For too long community sentences have been seen as, and indeed have been, a soft touch.

"This Government wants to change this and make them a proper and robust punishment. Criminals given a community punishment shouldn't just be able to enjoy life as it was before."

A forthcoming Justice Bill will also widen powers to seize criminals' assets. At the moment police can only confiscate high-level possessions such as yachts and luxury cars; the power will be increased to enable officers to take away lower-level possessions including electrical goods.

The Bill is expected to amend magistrates' powers to enable them to impose a mixture of fines and community punishments which to date have been separate.

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