(BBC) — Thousands of criminals in England and Wales will be tagged with GPS trackers to allow authorities to trace them 24 hours a day.
Currently, electronic tags are linked to a box at a fixed address, such as an offender’s home, with alerts generated if they are not there at certain hours.
But the new location tags will track a person’s movements wherever they go.
Justice Secretary David Gauke said the tags will better protect victims of domestic abuse or stalking.
The new GPS tags are already being used in some areas, but will be rolled out everywhere in England and Wales from this summer.
Around 60,000 offenders currently wear the standard electronic tags in England and Wales.
These tags are connected to a particular address which checks if the person wearing the tag is present during the hours they are meant to be. If not, an alert will be triggered.
As a result, they are largely used to enforce a curfew or some form of house arrest – but are not effective in checking that offenders are obeying other bail or parole restrictions such as keeping away from a particular place.
The new GPS tags, however, monitor the location of the person via a satellite signal which can pinpoint their location – wherever they are and whatever time of day.
They can be used to create a no-go zone where an offender or person on bail cannot enter, or ban someone from going within a certain distance of an address – such as a fellow criminal’s or victim’s home.
Anyone who breaches rules that have been imposed on them could then be recalled to prison or brought before the courts.
The GPS tags can also be used to check that an offender is attending an activity, for example work or a rehabilitation programme, or track their movements to find out about their lifestyle or behaviours.
“GPS tagging will help to better protect victims and give them the reassurance that perpetrators will not be able to breach an exclusion zone without triggering an immediate alert,” said Mr Gauke.
“I am confident that this important new technology will become a vital tool to increase public protection and strengthen options for tougher community sentences.”
The government has used electronic tagging services as part of the sentencing and supervision of offenders since 1999. It said the new GPS tags will not replace the current system but be an extra option.
The location tags can be used for people placed on court bail as well as offenders who have been given community orders, suspended sentences or after being released from prison.
So far, GPS tags have been rolled out to three regions – north-west and north-east England, and the Midlands. The new technology will also be trialled in London particularly for knife crime offenders after they have been released from prison.
Officials estimate that around 4,000 people will be GPS-tagged in a year. There will be a maximum of 1,000 tags in use at any one time.
The move comes after an 17-month pilot of GPS tags was carried out in eight police forces in England. The Ministry of Justice said the pilot showed GPS tags “can potentially save police investigation time”, and could make criminals more compliant.
The MoJ quoted one offender as saying: “I’ve walked in an exclusion zone before, not realising… that was before I had the tag on, so I wasn’t really bothered about getting seen. Now, with the tag, I knew full well that if I go in to that exclusion zone, I’m going to get seen no matter what.”
In Scotland, legislation which would bring in the same GPS tagging technology is at the second stage of passing through Parliament. It has been referred back to the committee and will then be debated.