Key findings

  • Studies have shown that electronic monitoring (EM) can have both positive and negative impacts. On the one hand, EM can potentially reduce chances to violate curfews, break criminal connections, and lead to improvements in family life.
  • On the other hand, wearing a tag can cause discomfort or feelings of shame, and there are risks around increased family tensions, anti-social behaviour, and use of alcohol/drugs. There is also a risk of exacerbating existing inequalities.
  • Assessment is a key component of successful use of EM, building a complete picture of the child’s life, including their family relationships and the suitability of their accommodation.
  • Attention needs to be given to the potential for net-widening and net-deepening, and the value of combining EM with mentoring and intensive support.


The use of electronic monitoring with children in the criminal justice system is mainly for the monitoring of curfews. These curfews can be a standalone community order, one requirement in a larger community order, a licence condition upon release from custody (including detention and training orders (DTO), for home detention curfew as part of a custodial sentence (although not DTOs), or a condition of bail. It is particularly commonly used as part of an Intensive Supervision and Surveillance (ISS) approach. ISS can be added to a community order or to a bail package as an alternative to custody, or as a licence condition for the community half of a DTO. ISS combines use of curfews with intensive supervisory input and close work with local police.

From March 2020, global positioning satellite (GPS) tagging has been available for children as part of a court bail package, remand to local authority accommodation, or as part of a youth rehabilitation order, with trail monitoring available from June 2022. It is also available for use in home detention curfew as part of a section 91 custodial order or as a licence condition for the community part of a DTO.  Exclusion zone monitoring uses GPS-enabled tags to monitor a child’s location and can raise an alert if the child crosses into an excluded zone. The child’s location is recorded at all times and can be made available to police to confirm where a child was at a specific time. GPS tags can also monitor a curfew, although this is cheaper with a standard radio frequency tag.

Key statistics are as follows:

  • at the end of March 2023, there were 589 people under the age of 18 currently electronically monitored; this represented 4 per cent of all those currently tagged across all ages
  • of these 589 children, 340 (58 per cent) were tagged as part of their court bail, 214 (36 per cent) were tagged as part of a court order, and 35 (six per cent) were tagged as part of their release conditions from custody.

Summary of evidence

Potential positive impacts

EM curfews can facilitate ‘habit breaking’ and disconnection from criminal networks. This was found to be the case for a minority of the children in one study, with the curfews giving them space to move away from delinquent peer groups, reducing their anti-social capital. The report was unable to comment on the longevity of these changes.

EM curfews have also been found to be more likely to reduce the chance that a child would violate their curfew when compared to a police-monitored curfew. This was due to the certainty of being caught and, to a lesser degree, the likelihood of punishment.

Curfews can be used to try to bring some structure to a child’s life, reinforcing daytime requirements, and relieving stress on the family. Some parents and carers have reported improvements in family life; they were able to spend more time with their child and were more reassured that their child was not getting into trouble. In another study, it was noted that some children felt guilty about the effects that their curfew had on their parents who ceased going out as much so that they could look after their child, with this guilt then producing ‘salutary’ effects on the curfewees.

Potential negative impacts

There are potential issues around the tagging of children with regard to stigmatisation and entrenchment of criminal identities. Some young people have highlighted the discomfort of wearing a tag and the shame and stigma from others seeing the tag. Conversely, some children have reported enjoying the attention arising from wearing a tag and they went to lengths to ensure others noticed the tag.

For many young people in one study, use of curfew tagging led to frustration, resentment, relationship difficulties, and increased domestic violence. There was also an increased use of alcohol or drugs to cope with boredom and frustration. This increased use of alcohol and drugs sometimes led to further anti-social behaviour and breaches of the curfew. Some parents have reported seeing the tagging of their child as a burden, due to feeling responsible for ensuring their child’s compliance.

The impact of electronic monitoring, particularly curfew, could be said to fall unevenly where there are economic differences between children. Confinement in the evening can be easier in a large house full of diversions, entertainment and amenities, but considerably more punitive in a cramped home shared with many other family members and with little to distract or occupy the child’s attention. Likewise, rurally based children might find confinement during the evenings little different from their normal routine, while children in cities might find a curfew to be a much greater change to their usual lifestyle.

The importance of assessment

An assessment is needed to understand the life of the child and the relevant circumstances, including their family relationships, the suitability of their accommodation, and the potential effect on their education. A positive assessment of suitability is a statutory criterion that must be met before a court can impose electronic monitoring; suitability of address should take into account the effect on other members of the household.

Suitability can only be assessed with the timely provision of accurate information, and where there is a court stand down to allow time for assessment, this time period may be short. It is therefore key that information flows between youth justice service practitioners at court and relevant partners, especially children’s social care, are subject to minimal barriers and clear data sharing policies.

Potential net-widening and net-deepening

International studies have reported EM being used not as an alternative to incarceration but as a more punitive form of disposal than the child would have received absent any available EM. This is a form of net-widening, which pre-sentence report writers need to consider before suggesting EM to the court. There is also the potential for net-deepening through the responses to violations or the detection of new offences.

Combining EM with mentoring and intensive support

In a Scottish study, use of Intensive Support and Monitoring services increased compliance with the curfew order. Children were more positive about the order and both they and their parents appreciated the support available when issues arose. Also noted was the sudden reduction in support if the child transitioned to adult services. Although these interventions improved compliance, there was no evidence that they increased long-term desistance.

In England and Wales, ISS was introduced in 2001, combining intensified supervision with regular surveillance in an attempt to bring structure to the lives of the most persistent and serious young offenders. While both the electronic tag and human trackers were commonly used forms of ‘surveillance’ for children subject to ISS, particular benefits were found from the use of ‘trackers’ – they were able to develop positive relations with the children, closing the divide between the two elements of the programme, and assisting with programme completion.

The views of experts

One study obtained the views of experts from four differing jurisdictions, and concluded that electronic monitoring with children should only be applied:

  1. when children can understand it
  2. for limited durations
  3. using GPS rather than radio frequency
  4. in combination with therapeutic treatments
  5. when children and other relevant people consent
  6. using incentivised schedules
  7. with individualised breach procedures
  8. alongside restorative practices
  9. with regular evaluation – further research and evaluation is required.

Findings from adult EM studies

EM has been more heavily studied in relation to adults, and there is enough common practice with how EM is used between adults and children to suggest that there may be some applicability of these findings to the youth cohort.

Find out more about adult EM studies

Key references

Crump, C. (2019). ‘Tracking the Trackers: An Examination of Electronic Monitoring of Youth in Practice’, UC Davis Law Review, 53(2), pp. 795.

Hucklesby, A. and Holdsworth, E. (2016). Electronic Monitoring in England and Wales. Centre for Criminal Justice Studies, University of Leeds.

Hucklesby, A. (2008). ‘Vehicles of desistance? The impact of electronically monitored curfew orders’, Criminology and Criminal Justice, 8(1), pp. 51–71.

Nellis, M. (2004). ‘The ‘Tracking’ Controversy: The Roots of Mentoring and Electronic Monitoring’, Youth Justice, 4(2), pp. 77-99.

Van Biervliet, D. (2023). ‘Electronic Monitoring of Juveniles in Flanders (Belgium): Lessons Drawn From Western European Countries’, Youth Justice,

Weisburd, K. (2015). ‘Monitoring the Youth: The Collision of Rights and Rehabilitation’, Iowa Law Review, 101(1), pp. 297.

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Last updated: 27 October 2023