It’s clear and obvious that by sticking a sobriety tag on habitual drunks we’ll get a reduction in offending from some of them:
Sobriety tags that enforce alcohol bans on offenders by checking their intake every 30 minutes are to be introduced in England to reduce drink-related crime, the Government has announced.
All courts in England will be able to order offenders to wear the tags for up to four months, with powers to jail or fine them if they breach their alcohol prevention orders.
As the proponent of the plan says:
These alcohol-fuelled crimes cost the country £21.5 billion every single year. That’s why today marks a particularly proud moment for me.
Ten years after I first proposed them, ‘sobriety tags’ are finally being rolled out across England. Offenders who commit a crime under the influence can now be ordered by a judge to wear a tag around their ankle for up to four months to ensure they stay sober. The probation service is alerted if alcohol is detected in their sweat, and they could find themselves back in the dock if they drink. The vast majority don’t.
Both in early trials and since they began being used in Wales in October, the tags have overwhelmingly kept people on the straight and narrow. Offenders stayed alcohol-free on over 95 per cent of the days they were monitored.
But that is not the end of the story. As new American research finds, actually punishing people can increase crime rates:
Misdemeanor Prosecution (NBER) (ungated) is a new, blockbuster paper by Agan, Doleac and Harvey (ADH). Misdemeanor crimes are lesser crimes than felonies and typically carry a potential jail term of less than one year. Examples of misdemeanors include petty theft/shoplifting, prostitution, public intoxication, simple assault, disorderly conduct, trespass, vandalism, reckless driving, indecent exposure, and various drug crimes such as possession. Eighty percent of all criminal justice cases, some 13 million cases a year, are misdemeanors. ADH look at what happens to subsequent criminal behavior when misdemeanor cases are prosecuted versus non-prosecuted.
We find that crime levels rise among those who were prosecuted as against those who were not.
There are multiple reasons as to why this could be true. My own assumption is that of probation. It is normal in the US system for probation to mean a series of restrictions on what may, subsequently, be done. No booze being a common enough one. What that means of course is that the probationer can now commit an offence by having a pint.
Back to the UK: we’ve just created a new offence for those so sentenced. It becomes a crime – for which we are monitoring them – to have a pint. Whether or not we see a rise or a fall in crime depends upon how many are dissuaded by the tag from committing a crime as against those who, wearing a tag, commit a crime by having a pint.
The evidence of crime reduction is slim it has to be said. The claim is that on 95% of days no pints are had. But whether that’s all tagged have a pint on 5% of days, or some smaller number that have pints on a greater number of days, who knows?
Let’s be crude about this then. We’re now making is a criminal offence for some portion of the lumpenproletariat to have a pint. This is going to decrease crime levels – by limiting drunken rampages – or increase crime levels by this new offence of having a pint?
Answer on a postcard to Priti at the Home Office.
Of course, don’t forget, this will only ever be used on the really hopeless cases, it will never, never, no siree, become just the standard Magistrate’s imposition upon a likely lad having a piss in an alleyway. Because new and extreme laws just never do expand in that manner in our green and pleasant land, do they?