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Attempts by HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) to modernise the electronic tagging of offenders failed at a huge cost to taxpayers, according to a National Audit Office (NAO) report.
The NAO found the transformation was unsuccessful because a case management software platform developed by Capita for HMPPS as part of the project was scrapped last year. Gemini, as it was known, was terminated in August 2021 after costing taxpayers just over £98m.
Gemini was intended to improve data on the behaviour of offenders, as well as streamlining the service and cutting its operational costs. Tagging is seen as an alternative to prison, but monitoring of offenders is essential if reoffending is to be reduced.
But scrapping Gemini has meant the service continues to rely on outdated technology and inefficiencies remain. For example, the current system requires staff to re-enter information manually, and insights into offenders’ journeys or longer-term outcomes are limited as age and gender are the only data captured.
“The poor quality data means HMPPS still does not have evidence as to whether electronic monitoring is effective in reducing reoffending or in diverting offenders from prison,” said the NAO report.
Labour MP Meg Hillier, who chairs the Public Accounts Committee, said: “Once again, HMPPS’s ambition has outstripped its ability to deliver. After years of poor performance, missed deadlines and almost £100m of taxpayer money down the pan, electronic tagging has failed to become the modern and effective service intended.
Meg Hillier, MP
“Despite repeated warnings by my committee on the importance of good data and evaluation, the debacle means that robust information is simply not available. The Ministry of Justice [MoJ] is marching ahead with more electronic tagging, but is flying blind on whether it’s actually effective.
“Plans to once again outsource the systems integrator role means HMPPS has come full circle, following the failure of this arrangement back in 2016. It’s vital that lessons are learned from the past. The NAO has repeated its warnings. The MoJ must not repeat its mistakes.”
The NAO said HMPPS’s decision to scrap Gemini had been the “best decision to take at the time”.
“HMPPS decided that the risks posed by unresolved issues with Gemini meant that continuing with its existing system would be more stable and sustainable,” the report stated.
HMPPS spent £153m on the modernisation project between 2011 and 2022. The NAO report said HMPPS and Capita contributed to severe delays to the programme, which was already 18 months late when the Gemini contract was terminated.
The NAO recommended that the MoJ’s digital, data and technology experts are involved in key decision points in the re-procurement process.
The report said: “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.”
Read more about digital transformation in government
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- Fixing government digital transformation – lessons from the early days of GDS.