ELECTRONIC tagging for criminals, piloted in Manchester earlier this year, is being extended to Bury and other districts in Greater Manchester.

The electronic monitoring is one of several new measures being introduced to deal with fine defaulters and other petty offenders.

Tagging, community service, and driving disqualification will provide alternatives for magistrates who previously had only a prison sentence as a remedy for the non-payment of fines.

The new measures are part of the Government's approach to trying to reduce the number of non-serious offenders in prison.

As well as fine defaulters, magistrates will have similar powers to deal with persistent offenders who commit minor offences involving petty theft, motoring infringements, and non-payment of TV licences.

These would normally be punished by a fine, but one of the new sentences may be imposed where the court considers the offender does not have the means to pay.

The new provisions came into force this month at magistrates' courts across the county, including Bury.

The Manchester scheme is one of only two such pilots across the country, the other being in Norfolk. Greater Manchester Probation Service is gearing up for an increase in offenders on community service orders and is arranging suitable work placements for offenders.

There is likely to be an increase in the range of work available for offenders, with the emphasis always on close supervision in order to protect the public.

Suitable work placements might include environmental improvement schemes, work on behalf of community groups, and close supervision in workshops making furniture and toys for local playgroups.

For the first time, provisions include the option to "buy back" unworked community service hours, finishing the sentence earlier.

Teresa Mallabone, district probation manager for Bury/Rochdale, said: "It is difficult to predict how widely the new powers will be used, but magistrates have been expressing concern for some time about the lack of alternatives to prison sentences for fine defaulters and other such offenders."

She added: "We have worked very closely with justices' clerks and with Securicor - who operate the electronic monitoring service - to help bring in the new arrangements and are committed to making the pilot a success."

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