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Prison LawThe move of government which would see offenders released from prison and those serving community sentences reporting to electronic kiosks rather than probation officers has been criticized by the unions.
Napo the probation union has warned that the plan was designed to cut jobs and could increase risk to the public.
The scheme to run as a pilot initially is to start at two London boroughs, Bexley and Bromley, and if found successful will be expanded across the capital. Government has defended the scheme saying it will allow probation officers spend more time with the offenders.
Under the plan, offenders will log into the purple machines, located in probation service offices, using fingerprints. Biometric reporting, as it is known, is used in the US, where the machines interact with up to 300 offenders.
The machines ask offenders a series of questions, including whether they have changed their address or job and if they have been arrested since their last report or wish to speak to someone. Probation service managers will also be able to add individually tailored questions to those asked by the machines, which are believed to cost around £130,000 a year to operate.
An internal briefing document for London Probation managers stated that biometric reporting potentially reduces the risk from offenders. A pilot is essential to demonstrate and quantify those benefits, so as to inform decisions about its use.
London Probation Trust (LPT) is understood to have sought legal advice about whether it could require offenders to use the machines.
But Napo, the probation officers' union, said that it was "appalled" at the development which it claimed had been made without consulting staff. The union claims the LPT has failed to carry out an Equality Impact Assessment and may be in breach of European rules on community sanctions.
Though government-sponsored research suggested personal relationships with offenders are was important in the probation service only, 75% of probation officers' time was spent on administration, leaving only 25% for contact.
Napo warned that offenders will have difficulty complying with the machine because of their chaotic lifestyles.
A spokesman for the Ministry of Justice denied claims that the kiosks were being installed as a cost-cutting exercise and said that it was misrepresented. The LPT was investigating a range of innovative approaches to allow professionals to cut bureaucracy and spend their time more effectively with the offenders they supervise. Public protection was the main priority he said.