Adaptability might be the best way to describe how Google remains the top search engine in the world. As SEOs learn how to manipulate the system, Google constantly changes it. New technology arrives – social media – Google adapts and integrates it into the algorithms to increase relevancy. Google is constantly watching, analysing, and evolving to stay one step ahead of a fickle, manipulative, clientele – some of whom devote their entire life to ‘beating the system’.
This isn’t how the justice system works. The justice system is ponderous, unsure of its goals – is it rehabilitation, retribution, restorative? – and dithers one way, then t’other, as it tries to satisfy members of all three ‘camps’. When it finally arrives at a decision, by committee, after competing interests have been heard at length, and a small forest consumed in paperwork, the resultant compromise is delivered from on high, imposed by mandate, set in stone and unyielding to tweaking that might take account of new technology or the fickle nature of those it seeks to control.
If Google operated on the same basis, it would be bankrupt, not the world’s 3rd most valuable ‘brand’.
Nowhere is this disparity of methods more clearly seen than in the Ministry of Justice’s attempt to enter the magical kingdom of ‘new technology’ back in 1989. In a dingy Indian jail cell forty-six years ago, Tom Stacey had an idea that would later develop into a billion-pound industry. The author and former Sunday Times foreign correspondent, jailed after crossing the government while working on a story, dreamt up an alternative to prison that he felt would be more humane: the electronic tag.
Since ‘tagging’ was first introduced, there have been three private sector suppliers each enjoying a monopoly position with little competitive pressure. This has led to a lack of innovation in technology and programmes with the majority of criminals wearing tags confined to night time curfews which do little to prevent them from reoffending during the day. Not only do the tags not prevent them from offending during the day, they don’t tell the system where they might have been when they weren’t where they should have been. In short, they are not an efficient method of preventing further offending, merely a form of ‘home imprisonment’ for a few hours a day. Retribution, not rehabilitation. Even that is delivered by cumbersome out of date methods.
Stray too far from the tag receptor, and the supplying contractor receives notice that you have strayed – and sends a fax to the local court reporting you ‘in breach’ of your order. A fax that can only be received during working hours, Monday to Friday. It is practically steam driven.
Probation staff in South Yorkshire reported that an offender was repeatedly listed as ‘in breach of his order’ when he was in fact sitting in a metal bath, which cut out the electronic signal.
London probation staff reported on the enterprising offender with an expensive prosthetic leg – so realistic that he had convinced the tag operator to fit the tag to it; he was able to revert to his normal lifestyle by the simple action of reverting to his old fashioned metal leg – and leaving the fancy new prosthetic at home to ‘talk’ to the ‘tag phone’.
Thames Valley probation received a report from G4S saying an offender was in breach when he was in prison! G4S had failed to remove his tag when he was recalled.
Yet my car has a primitive GPS system that can be programmed to say where I should be, knows within seconds if I have deviated from that path, can record where I went to on that deviation – and sends an audible signal to me to warn me that I’m off track. It can even arrange for the screen to flash lights at me in case I failed to listen to the audible warning.
Imagine if the tag worn by that habitual burglar could be programmed to allow him to walk his children to school and then continue to the job centre – but flashed lights and gave an audible warning if he went anywhere else; annoyingly difficult to nonchalantly walk down a residential road casing the households with open windows when your left foot is flashing blue lights and and a voice is endlessly repeating ‘turn around scumbag, you are out of bounds’ or some such inane message….imagine if the system could record that you dallied at 31, Acacia avenue for 27 minutes – just about the time when that house was burgled!
If we accept physical incarceration as a legitimate means of preventing reoffending, then there is no philosophical reason not to accept such an incarceration within ones own body as a means both of preventing reoffending and of identifying where known criminals are when a new crime is committed; as an added bonus, the general public will be made aware that a known offender is in their area and shouldn’t be – before a crime is committed – rather than being alerted by flashing blue lights and loud speakers as the police hare onto the scene after the event.
The technology is there – heavens, even the hide-bound civil service has stretched a tentative toe into the water. In US the the wearing of a GPS device helps reinforce in the mind of the wearer the sense that if they do break the rules this will almost always be detected and punishment will follow. Following this research, the MoJ appointed a small Redditch company, Steatite, to produce a ‘next generation’ GPS tag. Capita, or Crapita as it is known to its devotees, was appointed in a £400 million deal to oversee production. Steatite’s contract is in excess of £100 million.
Capita was already overseeing the present contract for the steam driven tags, as a result of the serious fraud squads investigation into G4S and Serco who previously held the contract. They were forced to repay £180 million; but the government are still paying them every month – £13.2 million so far, because they are still using their equipment.
Now, since the US have already developed these ‘new generation’ tags, you might be wondering what the hold up is – why don’t Steatite step up production? That would be because Steatite are being required to reinvent the wheel – and develop their own version of the GPS tag. At their own expense. And the MoJ will hold the rights to it when they have done that. When Buddi dropped out of the original bidding for this contract, they had this to say:
“They want the development of a product which does not yet exist. The MoJ have been an extraordinary diversion of much of our resources for two years now and this cannot continue, and we are excited for the prospects of the business now we are free of this unproductive and frustrating relationship.”
Why would the MoJ be so keen to hold the rights to this product? Could that be connected to Chris Grayling’s wish to sell Britain’s unique brand of justice and offender management to other countries?
We are committed to supporting those countries in the development of their criminal justice systems, working in liaison with UK Trade and Investments, the Department for International Developments and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
In response to this interest from around the world, we are setting up Just Solutions International – a social enterprise – to enable this service to be delivered in a commercial manner.
The Civil Service were very proud of their new venture:
Another example currently sits within the National Offender Management Service (NOMS), which is exploring an option to establish a not-for-profit organisation to market its expertise in Justice internationally. The new operation, Just Solutions International (JSi), will re-invest any surplus into research that supports the work of NOMS.
How is the brave new venture doing? What news of the £100 million contract to reinvent the US wheel?
Nine! Nine individuals – not offenders mark you, nine individuals. Steatite’s own employees? Testing the product?
The last figure I can find was 25,000 offenders wearing the old style tags. Chav-Nav has a long way to go before it shows a profit for the MoJ or the taxpayer.
Can you imagine how difficult it would be to find anything on the Internet if Capita had been put in charge of developing a search engine for the web?