Are the new ‘sobriety tags’ really working?

The launch of ‘sobriety tags’ in Wales has started today, with England set to follow in their footsteps. The government are hoping to reduce the rate of alcohol-fuelled crime by tagging criminals with a ‘sobriety tag’ which will mean they are banned from drinking.

It’s been said that criminals facing the ban can be tagged for up to a year. It will monitor the alcohol levels through individuals sweat. The amount of alcohol fuelled crime committed costs £21 billion a year.

In Wales, the scheme has been used for more than 100 offenders and they have remained sober on more than 95% of the days they were monitored, the Ministry of Justice said.

The tags themselves have demonstrated success in reducing the amount of alcohol fuelled crime. However, these tags are not targeting the route cause of an individual’s drinking habits. Whether these offenders are suffering with alcohol addiction or just heavy drinkers to solve the underlying issues there needs to be more put in place than just the ‘sobriety tags.’

For example, the ‘sobriety tags’ could be beneficial if they were used in combination with rehabilitation programmes. This could help as it monitors the drinking habits which in turn would help the rehab to assess the individual and be able to pin-point triggers in their daily lives.

The idea of the tags could also help probation officers to determine if an offender is an alcoholic or just a heavy drinker. Which would mean they might be able to get the option to get help for their addiction rather than potentially further punishment. It is important to remember that addiction is an illness and it needs to be treated in the correct way.

If someone is struggling with alcohol addiction it can dramatically change their behaviours. For example, while being intoxicated they might be involved in some criminal activity. By treating the addiction at the root, it could prevent the individual from repeat offending. The use of the ‘sobriety tags’ could work successfully in combination with this. Without treatment the offender is more likely to start drinking again after the ‘sobriety tag’ is removed. Resorting back to old behaviours and habits.

Another issue that the ‘sobriety tag’ may bring is by excluding and out casting individuals for drinking. The increased stigma around alcoholism that these tags might incite could have a significant impact. For some offenders’ alcohol may have been a choice. However, for others they might be suffering from addiction and these new ‘sobriety tags’ highlight this to the general public. This comes with its own issues. For example, an offender may be embarrassed about being known as a drinker and then resent wearing the tag even more. This may then cause offenders to try and remove the tag or go against the rules of the tag. It again increases the chance of reoffending after the tag is removed and to consume alcohol again.

Addiction is an illness and should be treated like one. It is important to understand that if someone is struggling and needs treatment, they are only going to be successful if they want to combat the addiction. Consequently, if an offender is tagged and restricted on drinking this is only dealing with the initial symptoms and removing the substance. It isn’t dealing with the underlying issues of the individual which create the addiction and then in turn create problems such as crime.

Amy Ellie, North Wales probation officer, said: “I think the tag is an excellent addition to the tools we have at our disposal to protect the public and support offenders to achieve positive changes to their lives.

“The tag will have a wonderful impact because when we ask offenders for whom we know alcohol is a risk factor what they are drinking they can tell us ‘Nothing’. We might know that’s not true, but we can’t guess the scale of the problem.”

However, Nuno Albuquerque from the UK Addiction Treatment group said to Sky News the scheme was a "short-term solution" to a "long-term problem".

He said: "Tagging them simply stigmatises them drinking alcohol and doesn't address the root cause of the problem.

"We'd welcome information as to how these people are supported in order to prevent them from drinking once the tag comes off.

"Collaborative support between probation teams and treatment providers needs to be in place so that when the tag comes off, the person won't want to drink, rather than being forced not to drink."


If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction, please do not hesitate to contact our specialist team. They are here to help you with any questions or queries you may have.