Police and probation officers should be directly involved in tracking criminals on electronic tags as part of a bid to save hundreds of millions of pounds, a report has said.
The current system using providers G4S, the firm at the centre of the Olympics security shambles, and Serco is outdated, under-used and expensive, the Policy Exchange think-tank said.
Chris Miller, a former assistant chief constable who spoke for police chiefs on tagging, warned that "much of the potential of electronic monitoring to keep our communities safe has not been realised". He added: "What we have been given instead is a sclerotic, centrally controlled, top down system that has enriched two or three large suppliers, that lacks the innovation and flexibility of international comparators and that fails to demonstrate either that it is value for money or that it does anything to reduce offending."
Core costs are 10 times more than what is paid in the United States and almost £70 million a year would be freed up if the firms handed over the technology to police and probation officers to monitor and fit the tags, rather than doing it themselves, the report said. This would pay for 2,000 probation officers or 1,200 additional police officers to work on offender management, with an average of 12 or 20 cases respectively, it added.
Police and probation officers should also be able to recommend to courts and prison governors who ought to be tagged, the Future of Corrections report said. It would also be wise for police to trial tagging technology in relation to prolific and high-risk offenders, adding that some 40,000 criminals, including sex offenders, could be eligible, it said.
Since tagging was introduced in the UK in 1989, there has been little competitive pressure and a lack of innovation in technology, the report claimed. In contrast, the tags have become smaller, smarter and more durable in the US.
But Justice Secretary Chris Grayling said new guidelines being introduced "call for a smarter, more integrated approach that takes advantage of the latest technology". He said: "Properly administered, new generation tagging can promote improved behaviour and give victims reassurance."
Richard Morris, group managing director of G4S Care and Justice Services, said: "G4S has been providing electronic monitoring to the Ministry of Justice since its inception more than 10 years ago and we are proud of our excellent track record in delivering what is the largest and most complex offender monitoring programme in the world.
"The use of electronic monitoring in England and Wales actually saves the taxpayer tens of millions of pounds each year by providing a robust alternative to expensive prison custody for offenders who are deemed suitable for tagging. We have also worked closely with the Ministry of Justice over the years to introduce innovations and changes to the original service which have resulted in improved value for money."
G4S monitors more than 50,000 people in more than 15 countries, he added. Mr Morris went on: "We have pioneered the use of new technology, and we were appointed by the Scottish government to monitor offenders using the ground-breaking multi-functional GPS technology that is commended in this report. We will continue to invest in innovation." Serco did not wish to comment.