21:46, December 04 272 0 theguardian.com

2019-12-04 21:46:04
TV review  Tagged: Life on Lockdown review – inside the brutal world of 'prolific offenders'

Tagged (BBC Three) follows three of the 6,000 subjects of electronic supervision orders issued every year in the UK. In Warrington, 19-year-old Jordan must wear his ankle bracelet for 12 weeks as part of his parole conditions after finishing a prison sentence for car theft. “They keep an eye on you for six months after release … I’m classed as a prolific offender,” he says, not boasting, just explaining for the people at home who don’t live his life. Half of which has been spent in care, and most of which currently consists of getting into fights (“the sense of relief after it …”) despite his best friend recently getting stabbed in one and dying in Jordan’s arms. He loses his flat as a result, and ends up in a homeless shelter.

On an inescapably deprived-looking estate in St Helens, 17-year-old Kian is “on tag” for 12 weeks, too. He was prosecuted for carrying a machete his friend had given him for his birthday, which, he says, he gathered up with some other belongings when he stormed out of the house after a row with his sister. His mum is delighted he has been tagged. She knows where he is now and it’s not “hanging out with some of the dickheads you used to hang about with”. He has always been in and out of trouble. Free-running classes at the local community centre used to help him channel some of his energy, until the funding ran out. We see him jumping effortlessly over walls and joyfully swinging off the overhead bars of a bridge as naturally as breathing, but there’s no one to cultivate this ability in the lad now. His mother tells him she is proud of him sticking to his curfew, and he is childishly pleased with her praise. Seventeen is so young. Old enough to know you shouldn’t go walking the streets with a machete, mind. But still so young, in so many ways.

Tommy is older, a former soldier with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) he remains tight-lipped about, and is first seen cleaning his home to military standards (“Fucking clean home’s a happy home”) before he goes to the local food bank for one of the millions of parcels distributed in the UK last year. He has been on tag for four months while he awaits trial for robbery. He says he had just gone to collect a debt owed on the fake tobacco he used to trade in, and that the witness who rang the police misinterpreted his demand for money. His solicitor is not convinced that a jury will agree, so to prepare for a possible five-year sentence, Tommy busies himself selling his possessions.

These intermingled stories unfold across three 20-minute episodes instead of the traditional hour. This works tremendously well, mirroring the short-termism with which their lives are lived and leaving us as uncertain of their fates as the three central figures are themselves. It gives a compressed, kinetic feel to the whole thing, which resonates with their frustrations as they live under curfew.

Tagged belongs to a school of documentary that really should have been recognised as a discrete genre by now. You could call it the “shit rolls downhill” category, home of all the shows whose makers turn their attention to the overlooked and the underprivileged and serve up – be it in 20-, 30- or 60-minute chunks or whole series – more and more irrefutable evidence of this abiding truth. This week, we had Britain’s Breadline Kids, which showed how one ordinary piece of bad luck (bereavement, divorce, job loss) can precipitate an avalanche of crises – especially among those who are already vulnerable. And there are many other examples, about the ramifications of dementia and caring responsibilities or the woefully underserved children in the foster system, and so on across all terrestrial channels and just about every other platform, too.

I’d call this growing genre “speaking truth to power” but for the fact that would imply that power is listening. So far, there is no sign. We leave the three men in Tagged on relatively positive notes – Tommy is found not guilty, Jordan’s tag is taken off, and he says as he drinks his first pint without it that he is “Sick of being a knobhead … sick of stress … fighting … getting hurt. Decided I’m gonna do honest work. Honest work isn’t stressful.” Kian is detagged, gets a landscaping job and plans to pay his mum back for the fine. But pull back the camera – will a “prolific offender” find employment before his resolve wears off? Will there be free, accessible support for Tommy to undo the traumas and PTSD he cannot even put into words? – and the greater truth remains. On and on the giant ball of tangled misery, missed chances and lost potential goes instead, downhill and gathering pace.