Murder victim: Steven Grisales
Yet again a teenager in breach of bail - this time a court curfew - has murdered someone for challenging their antisocial behaviour. It appears not much has changed since Adam Swellings kicked a father of three to death on his doorstep in 2007.
No doubt the police will be blamed for failing to arrest this latest teenager for removing his tag and breaching his curfew for three days prior to the killing.
In Blandshire, the contract for electronic tagging lies with a private company. When a tagging order is given out in court, the company turns up at the offender's door - this might be several days after they are released from court. The offender must let them in and allow them to install the monitoring box and the tag on his/her leg, otherwise he is immediately in breach of the tag. Once installed, if the tag is not registered near to the box during the hours of the person's curfew, a signal is sent to the company, who phone the monitoring box. If the offender does not pick up, a breach is recorded and sent to the police to action an arrest. (If he does pick up, the company will attend to check the equipment.)
So far, so infallible. Unfortunately, the system is plagued with issues, some of them the direct consequence of this job being farmed out to a private company:
- The company turns up to install the equipment, and finds the offender doesn't live there and never has.
- The company turns up to find the offender's mother/significant other, does not want their address used for bail.
- A breach is recorded, but on police attendance it turns out the offender is already in custody. The private company has not got the message.
- A breach is recorded, but it turns out the court have changed the bail conditions and not informed the company yet (or at all).
The Police National Computer will often show different times of curfew or addresses to that held by these companies. None of this helps when we are trying to bring offenders before the court for breaching their tag, and they come out with the excuse that "the address was wrong", "my conditions had been changed", "I'm allowed to leave home early on a Tuesday to go to work".
As a result, most breaches result in a reiteration of the curfew, not exactly a deterrent. Sometimes the court will even take it on faith that the offender lives at a new address, and bail the person to that address without the most basic of checks to confirm it is valid. The police then end up looking for a person in breach of curfew, with no idea where they actually live and therefore no starting point for their arrest.
I am in favour of tagging, particularly for juveniles, but find it an eternal frustration that the police end up running after their tails due to a botched system. You can bet it won't be the courts, or the private company, held to account for the latest "murder on bail".
Until we arrive at the point where the information is timely and accurate, and the courts follow up with an instant prison sentence for each and every breach, murders like that of Steven Grisales will continue to happen. And the police will no doubt continue to carry the can for them.
Diary of an On-Call Girl' is available in some bookstores and online.