Home detention curfews (electronic tags)

What is a home detention curfew?

Home detention curfews (HDCs) – commonly referred to as electronic tagging – allow prisoners to be released from prison earlier than the end of their sentence to serve the rest of the sentence under an electronic monitoring device.

Who is eligible for a HDC?

Prisoners serving a sentence between three months and four years can be considered for such release. Early release is usually between two weeks and four and half months before their automatic release date, depending on the length of their sentence.

HDC is a privilege and not an absolute right of a prisoner and not all prisoners will be eligible. Ineligible prisoners are those who:

  • have committed violent or sex offences who are currently serving an extended sentence under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998;
  • are serving a sentence for failure to return to custody following a period of temporary release;
  • are subject to a hospital order, hospital direction or transfer direction under the Mental Health Act 1983;
  • have failed to comply with a curfew requirement of a community order;
  • are subject to the notification requirements of Pt 2 of the Sexual offences Act 2003;
  • are liable to removal from the UK;
  • have breached a HDC curfew condition;
  • have been released on licence for compassionate reasons and have been recalled to prison;
  • have less than 14 days remaining between the date of sentence and the date on which they will have served the requisite custodial period.

Prisoners serving sentences for certain offences are ‘presumed unsuitable’ and will only be released if the prison governor agrees to their exceptional circumstances. These offences are:

  • homicide;
  • explosives;
  • terrorism;
  • possession of offensive weapons;
  • possession of firearms with intent;
  • cruelty to children;
  • offences aggravated on the grounds of race, religion or sexual orientation.

Applying for HDC

A prisoner will not have to follow any formal method of applying for a HDC. If they are eligible for early release on tag, then at around 10 weeks before the start of the curfew date, the prison will begin a risk assessment of releasing the prisoner back into the community. The prisoner may be approached to confirm details such as the address thry will be released on curfew to.

If a prison governor decides that a prisoner should be released on a HDC, the prisoner must be released on licence under s 34A of the Criminal Justice Act 1991 (as amended). The governor sets the licence conditions, including the times and place(s) of curfew. The prisoner must be informed of the licence conditions and, on the day of release, must sign the licence agreeing to these conditions.

Refusal of HDC

If a prisoner is refused a HDC, then they will be informed of the details and reason why. They can appeal such a decision through the prison complaints procedure.

How does HDC work?

When a prisoner is released on a HDC they are required to stay at the registered address (usually their home address or a relative’s address), that will have been approved prior to the release, for the duration of their curfew.

An electronic tag will be attached to the prisoner’s ankle, and resembles a bulky watch. The electronic tag is waterproof and shockproof, so the prisoner can wash and bath as normal.

When the prisoner is fitted with the tag, a monitoring box will be installed in the property registered for the prisoner’s curfew. This monitors when the prisoner is in the property, to show whether or not the curfew conditions are being complied with. If the person leaves the property during their curfew hours (usually 7am-7pm), the control centre will be notified and the person will be in breach of the HDC.

What happens if the curfew is breached?

If the curfew is breached, either by the person leaving the property during the curfew hours, or as a result of the person tampering with the device, the contractors will act immediately. This will usually result in the person being returned to custody where they will stay until their automatic release date.

If a prisoner is recalled to prison for reasons beyond their control (eg, if they can’t stay at the curfew address any more), they may be eligible to immediately apply for re-release if another suitable address can be found.

Making changes to HDC conditions

If a prisoner released on HDC wants to have their curfew conditions varied – such as a change to their curfew address or hours – they must usually apply to the governor of the prison from which they were released; the contractor who fitted the tag, however, can authorise some one-off absences, such as a doctor’s appointment.

Licence conditions must not usually be altered unless it is unreasonable to expect the offender to carry on abiding by existing licence conditions. Documentary evidence may be required. The curfew address must not be changed without an assessment of the suitability of the new address by the home probation service.

Where there is a permanent change to the curfew conditions, a new licence, together with form HDC11 must be sent to the contractor and copies sent to the home probation service, the National Identification Service and the home police force. The contractors will arrange for the offender to sign the new licence.

At the end of the curfew

The contractors who fitted the initial device will visit the property to remove the monitoring system. Once this has been done, the offender’s sentence will be considered as having been served.

Article written by...
Lucy Trevelyan LLB
Lucy Trevelyan LLB

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Lucy graduated in law from the University of Greenwich, and is also an NCTJ trained journalist. A legal writer and editor with over 20 years' experience writing about the law.