HM Prison & Probation Service (HMPPS) has not managed to transform the system for electronically tagging offenders as it intended and has lost £98 million trying to do so, according to a report by the National Audit Office.
In 2011, HMPPS launched a transformation programme aimed at improving the efficiency and capability of electronic monitoring (tagging of offenders).1 This has been unsuccessful because HMPPS has failed to deliver a new case management system (Gemini).
HMPPS launched location monitoring of offenders in November 2018 and has scaled up tagging services over time, but the delays and subsequent termination of Gemini have undermined its efforts. For example, HMPPS has had to rely on old and outdated technology and fundamental inefficiencies in tagging services remain unresolved. The current system requires staff to re-enter information manually, which is slower and more prone to error.
Gemini was intended to improve data, streamline processes and save money. Without it, HMPPS’s insights into offenders’ journeys or longer-term outcomes is limited. Only data on offenders’ age and gender are captured, so HMPPS does not know whether tagging is proportionately applied to offenders with other protected characteristics, including ethnicity. More generally, the poor quality data means that HMPPS still does not have evidence as to whether electronic monitoring is effective in reducing reoffending or in diverting offenders from prison.
The decision in August 2021 to terminate the Gemini contract was the best decision to take at the time, but cancelling the project has cost taxpayers £98 million. HMPPS decided that the risks posed by unresolved issues with Gemini meant that continuing with its existing system would be more stable and sustainable. HMPPS spent £153 million on the programme between 2011-12 and 2021-22.
Both HMPPS and Capita, the company awarded the contract to develop Gemini, contributed to severe delays for the transformation programme. By the time the contract for Gemini was terminated, the programme was already 18 months late against its original, over-optimistic timetable. An external review of the programme found that HMPPS did not intervene early enough to resolve issues across the suppliers involved in the programme, and there was a breakdown in trust and collaboration which led to three formal disputes between HMPPS and Capita, most recently due to delays. HMPPS did not escalate significant programme risks to the Ministry of Justice (the Ministry).
The transformation programme for the electronic monitoring system came to an end in March 2022, and HMPPS has now moved its focus to an expansion programme expected to run until 2024-25.4 HMPPS has widened its use of tagging to broader groups of offenders and has so far launched three expansion projects. It has achieved positive outcomes in its alcohol monitoring service, reporting offenders’ high sobriety rates while on tag. HMPPS also launched a pilot scheme for those with convictions for theft, burglary, or robbery in April 2021, making tagging a condition of prisoners’ release. HMPPS’s and the Home Office’s plans to monitor Foreign National Offenders using Smartwatches, which capture biometric data, have been delayed because the operating system did not meet Government Cyber Security Standards.
HMPPS is seeking to learn lessons from the failures of the transformation programme. It has made some pragmatic decisions to reduce delivery risks, including selecting a simpler delivery model and committing to buy tried and tested technologies instead of commissioning bespoke systems. It has also developed a clear framework to escalate risks, which will help to ensure better scrutiny. HMPPS has a challenging few years ahead. Its contracts with its main suppliers are coming to an end, so it is procuring new contracts and moving to new arrangements for electronic monitoring services against a demanding timetable. It also expects to monitor an additional 6,000 offenders on top of existing caseloads by 2023-24.
To mitigate risks and maximise future benefits of the future electronic monitoring services, the NAO recommends that the Ministry’s digital, data and technology experts provide strategic direction and oversight at key decision points in the re-procurement process. HMPPS must ensure that it understands risks associated with the way it chooses to procure for and deliver the service, putting in place mitigation for these risks, whilst setting realistic expectations for what can be delivered.
Gareth Davies, the head of the NAO, said: “HMPPS has extended tagging to new groups of offenders, but it has not achieved the fundamental transformation of tagging services it intended. Significant work remains to strengthen the evidence base and understand the impact of electronic monitoring on reoffending. HMPPS must learn lessons so it can deliver a reliable, responsive and cost-effective service that protects the public.”