Did you know over half a million people in the UK are dependent on alcohol, and that 82% aren’t receiving any treatment? Furthermore, alcohol is a factor in around 39% of violent crime and alcohol-related harm costs over £21 billion per year.
These statistics undoubtedly influenced the recent introduction of ‘sobriety tags’ in England and Wales to help tackle alcohol fuelled crime.
The tags monitor offenders’ sweat every 30 minutes and alert the probation service if alcohol is consumed. Most of our clients use them to monitor adults where there is concern over guardianship of vulnerable children.
With the new law already in force in Wales—and due in England next year—here’s more of an overview of what sobriety tags will be used for, how they work, and whether they’re likely to reduce the UK’s alcohol problem.
Why are sobriety tags being introduced?
As noted in a press release from the Ministry of Justice and Office of the Secretary of State for Wales, the objectives of the new law are threefold:
- to make community sentences more robust
- to make punishment for alcohol-related offences tougher
- to reduce repeat alcohol-related offences
How will sobriety tags be used?
When a person is convicted of an offence where alcohol played a part, the court can make a ‘sobriety tag’ part of a community order or suspended sentence.
It won’t, however, be used when the person is considered dependent on alcohol or when an Alcohol Treatment Requirement (ATR) is prescribed as part of sentencing.
How do sobriety tags work?
An electronic tag is fitted to the offender’s ankle. The tag then samples sweat every 30 minutes, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week—for up to 120 days. This information is used to determine whether, when and how much alcohol has been consumed.
The probation service is alerted if and when any of the following events occur:
- alcohol is consumed
- the tag is tampered with
- the offender tries to block contact between the tag and their skin
In any of these cases, the offender could be given further sentencing or fines.
Will sobriety tags work?
The most obvious advantage of sobriety tags is that the anticipation of punishment may help change behaviour. Indeed, when the tags were piloted across London, Humberside, Lincolnshire and North Yorkshire, offenders were alcohol-free on over 97% of the days monitored.
As for whether they’ll help combat alcohol-fuelled crime—only time will tell. But one thing is sure: sobriety tagging is a reactive strategy. Yes, tags could help reduce repeat offences, decrease prison sentences and aid intervention. But at the point of tagging, the person has already committed an alcohol-related crime. It’s unlikely, therefore, to make a big dent in the number of people in the UK dependent on alcohol or the subsequent socioeconomic implications.
However, a similar approach—namely, monitoring consumption to change behaviour—could be utilised more effectively before a crime is committed. At Cansford Labs, for example, we help family lawyers, criminal lawyers, social workers and others monitor their clients’ alcohol consumption, which plays a critical role in helping people overcome alcohol dependency if measured accurately during treatment.
Unfortunately, testing is complex and the wrong approach is often used. For instance, despite being one of the most common tests, a blood test for CTD is not the best way to monitor alcohol consumption.
There is strong evidence that testing hair ETG and blood Phosphatidylethanol (PEth) levels provides more efficient monitoring of both recent and historic alcohol consumption. This approach has the added benefit of it being relatively easy to collect samples. A blood test for PEth involves a simple finger prick rather than venipuncture.
For more information about how to monitor alcohol consumption accurately, contact us.
Image: By okorokovanatalya via Adobe Stock
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