Lindsay Lohan-style sobriety bracelets to keep offenders ‘dry’ to be tested
Published 10/02/2012 | 13:47
CRIMINALS convicted of serious drink-related offences will be fitted with US-style "sobriety bracelets" to keep them dry under a new pilot scheme.
Alcohol intake will be monitored by the electronic tags, which have been worn by American offenders including Hollywood actress Lindsay Lohan and could be tested in London from this summer.
Anyone continuing to drink will be arrested and brought before a judge who has the option of sending them back to prison, City Hall said.
Inspired by a programme in the US state of South Dakota, the capital will be the first city in England to trial the system on persistent alcohol offenders convicted of crimes such as assault and criminal damage.
The Government has provided £400,000 to London Mayor Boris Johnson to fund the project and the mayor is said to be keen to see it extended.
It is hoped the bracelets, which monitor the alcohol level in the wearer's blood, will reduce drink-related crime in the capital.
Often tagged to the ankle, they work by measuring air and perspiration emissions from the skin every 30 minutes.
Blood alcohol levels as low as 0.02pc can reportedly be detected and the tags can tell when alcohol was consumed before electronically transmitting that information to a base monitoring station.
Mr Johnson said: "I am grateful to my colleagues in Whitehall for recognising that tackling crime is a top priority in this city and we must use every innovation at our disposal to keep on making London safer.
"This proposal is welcome but we still need the legislation passing to give the necessary powers in order to have a major impact."
Kit Malthouse, deputy mayor for crime and policing, said the results of the scheme in the US showed how effective it could be.
"We hope this will now be the template for the wider reforms needed to fully implement the wider sobriety scheme we're lobbying for, which can successfully tackle wider issues like domestic violence and makes people pay for daily testing," he said.
"The success of South Dakota proves that removing alcohol really reduces violent crime. In the meantime we hope this mini pilot will have a positive impact on people this summer.
"Offenders will have to ask themselves if a drink is really worth a night in jail."
The British Ministry of Justice said details of the scheme would be announced shortly.
A spokesman said: "Alcohol-related crime and disorder causes havoc in communities across the country and we are committed to reducing the social harms associated with excessive consumption.
"That is why we are planning to run innovative trials of compulsory sobriety as part of conditional cautions and community sentences for people convicted of alcohol-related crimes."
Alcohol charities offered a wary response.
Simon Antrobus, chief executive of Addaction, cautioned against the belief that problem drinkers could be simply forced to stop drinking.
He said: "Our main concern is you just can't enforce abstention. A lot of the people we work with will have significant alcohol problems.
"People really need to look at the treatment that's already out there and the counselling that's out there because it really does work.
"It's really difficult to say to someone who's got a significant drink problem, 'just stop'.
"Any measure that tries to stop people committing alcohol-related crimes is great and people should be looking at that, but we're going to wait until we see the results from the South Dakota trial before we can welcome it or pooh-pooh it."
Alcohol Concern chief executive Eric Appleby said: "I think it's a populist measure. The important thing about this is that it shouldn't just been seen as a punitive measure.
"The use of the testing must be part of a wider regime to actually help the person address their drinking as a process of rehabilitation.
"Just simply to stop them drinking is not going to help anyone much."
The South Dakota 24/7 Sobriety Programme was developed to address repeat alcohol-related driving offences.
Launched as a pilot project in 2005, it combined intensive testing and monitoring of drug and alcohol consumption with swift punishment for infractions.
As part of the scheme, ankle bracelets were worn by offenders so they could be electronically monitored for alcohol use.
Results were said to have shown that 99.3pc of offenders' blood tests were negative for alcohol and the prison population fell by 14pc.
A US judge ordered film star Lohan to wear one of the bracelets after she failed to show up for a probation hearing relating to a 2007 drink-driving case.
It was announced in October that the equipment was being introduced in Scotland as part of a pilot scheme for violent offenders receiving community sentences.
The trial of the scheme in England comes as a Greater London Authority (GLA) survey of more than 1,000 Londoners found that over two-thirds (69pc) would welcome courts banning offenders from consuming alcohol if they were guilty of committing an alcohol-related offence.
Across the UK, a fifth of all violent incidents take place in or around a pub or club and in 2010-11 nearly half of all violent crime was fuelled by alcohol, the GLA said.
The survey also found that only 14pc of Londoners believe the costs for testing for alcohol sobriety should be met by the state.
According to the Home Office, the estimated annual cost of alcohol-related crime is between £8 billion and £13 billion. This includes the costs in anticipation of crime, the direct physical and emotional costs to victims, the value of lost output and the costs to the health service and criminal justice system.