UK tests probationer tracking

U.K. National Probation Service Electronic Monitoring Program

The United Kingdom's Home Office launched a yearlong pilot program this week to track by satellite criminal offenders out on probation.

The pilot will test two types of technology using Global Positioning System satellites while tracking people who have been convicted of multiple offenses, domestic violence or sex crimes. A smaller test will involve juvenile offenders. Prime Minister Tony Blair originally announced the plan in July to expand on electronic tagging programs that are already in place.

Several states in the United States either have similar systems in place or are examining the concept.

In the majority of the U.K. tests, the device the offender wears will passively track their movements. Those devices will transmit information only when connected to a landline phone, basically providing an audit trail to check where the offender has been. The other devices are testing a hybrid system that will usually be in passive mode, but will switch to active transmission if the offender enters a restricted area, or exclusion zone, pinpointing the offender's location to within 2 meters.

This program, which represents the first time satellite tracking has been used in corrections in Europe, is intended not only to enforce sentences but to prevent future offenses, said Home Secretary David Blunkett.

"Introducing satellite tracking represents the next step in monitoring offender movements whilst the serve the community element of any sentence," Steve Murphy, director general of the Probation Service, said in a statement. "The testing of satellite tracking will enable probation staff and police forces to work even more closely in protecting the public."

The pilot tests will take place in three counties: Greater Manchester, Hampshire and the West Midlands. They will be supported by Securicor Justice Services, Reliance Monitoring Services and Premier Monitoring Services, the country's electronic-monitoring contractors. The average cost per day to track each offender is expected to be £68 (almost $121), and the Home Office has dedicated £3 million (a little more than $5.3 million) to cover startup costs, evaluation and project management for the tests.

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