The future for electronic monitoring in Scotland

The following recommendations were recently announced by a Scottish government commissioned working group regarding how electronic monitoring or ‘tagging’ can move from being a solely punitive measure to a sentencing option that works in tandem with support organisations. There are four core recommendations:

  1. Technology
    GPS technology should be introduced to the electronic monitoring service in Scotland. Its use should be not be predicated by crime type. GPS technology is versatile and decisions on its use should be made as part of an individually tailored approach, including where it can aid public and victim safety and where it can be used to strengthen the monitored person’s desistance.
  2. Future Service Delivery
    To be most effective, the future model of service delivery for electronic monitoring in Scotland must be more integrated than it has been previously. Stand alone orders will be suitable for some individuals and should therefore remain as a legitimate disposal. However, in the majority of cases, whether a court order, HDC or as a condition of parole licence, electronic monitoring – having been based on a risk assessment – must be tailored to reflect the personal circumstances of each individual. Where longer term desistance is the overarching goal, electronic monitoring should be part of a wider package of support, delivered locally by statutory bodies with Third Sector involvement. Its use should not be restricted to particular crimes and need not be restricted to being an alternative to custody. The future model will retain a nationally commissioned technology and monitoring service.
  3. A Goal Oriented and Person Centred Approach
    For electronic monitoring to be used most effectively, its use should be considered in line with the overarching goals for each monitored person and tailored to reflect the needs, risk and circumstances of that individual. Where longer term desistance is the ultimate goal, electronic monitoring should be set within a wider package of support provided by statutory bodies with Third Sector involvement.
  4. Compliance
    Ensuring that effective structures are criteria are in place to support compliance and manage non-compliance are crucial to contributing to a long term reduction in further offending, while maintaining electronic monitoring as a robust community sentence. For court orders, to strengthen Sheriffs’ confidence in electronic monitoring as a robust disposal, two reporting options (standard and intensive) for reporting non-compliance should be developed. For Home Detention Curfew, amendments should be made to streamline the current non-compliance criteria and should be accepted and used by all Scottish prison establishments.In partnership with individuals, agencies and organisations including the Judiciary, Police Scotland, Scottish Prison Service, Parole Board for Scotland, Criminal Justice Social Work, victims, the Third Sector and the service provider, response levels to non compliance should be defined, agreed and set out in a response framework.

A further four recommendations for the use of electronic monitoring in the future were made including wider use in the community (e.g. as an alternative to remand and support to pre-trial conditions or to short term prison sentences), by SPS within the custodial estate (e.g. for work placement, home leave, community access from closed establishments), legislative change to enable the above amendments to existing law and an invitation to statutory and non statutory organisations to present their statement of intent with regard to electronic monitoring.

Who takes the risk in criminal justice?

Often, we hesitate to try something new because we imagine it’s too ‘risky’. Sometimes our fears are rooted in practical difficulties – How will we get there? How will we pay for it? In other situations, we may feel we don’t have enough information to make a choice. The idea of using an SDS approach in criminal justice can seem ‘risky’ when much of what needs to happen is court directed. Additionally, the prospect of offering greater flexibility to sometime chaotic individuals with multiple complex needs can be daunting.

Simon Humphreys runs a forensic residential service for men with learning disabilities who generally fall into one of three categories: individuals with learning disabilities who were in long stay institutions when offending took place; sex offenders whose offending is related to their learning disability; and sex offenders who have a learning disability. While this service does not specifically offer self-directed support it does involve managing risk in a community setting – rather than a long stay hospital – and requires flexibility and the explicit consent of the individuals who use it. As such, some lessons might be learned.

For example, Simon advises that it is vital to build a relationship of trust between individuals and staff and to accept that some ‘relapses’ and minor incidents will likely occur.

“You cannot control people entirely, they take the risk, you’re aware of the risk, you manage access to the risk and you have to educate and communicate with individuals about the consequences of their choices. If they have rights, then they also have responsibilities. What will happen if they offend? What do they stand to lose? Particularly where there is no legal compulsion, for example reaching an agreement that certain television and internet packages will be removed from an individual if they are judged to be inappropriate and likely to lead to reoffending”.

In addition, Simon describes the importance of facilitating access to activities that are meaningful and enjoyable to individuals. For example, the service has recently developed a social enterprise garden project that helps people develop better communication and new employment skills.

Simon emphasises the importance of communicating clearly with partner organisations who may have a different culture of risk and varying ideas around what constitutes risk.

Lastly, staff have to be trained appropriately so they can feel confident relating to individuals and having difficult conversations about what is or isn’t appropriate behaviour if necessary.

Electronic monitoring – it doesn’t just have to be about punishment


12th August

I recently attended an event organised by Glasgow Community Justice Authority to explore how electronic monitoring is being and could be used in Scotland. Great, I thought this will be my chance to learn about electronic monitoring. What was really useful about the event was that we heard from people with different experiences and perspectives, including Scottish Government, families, and practitioners. We also heard stories and examples from other places and countries.

What surprised me most was that all the speakers talked about electronic monitoring as a tool that can be used in a range of ways. I had just assumed monitoring was all about punishment and restricting people’s activities and movements.

One speaker gave an example of a man who volunteered to have electronic monitoring. He did so because he saw it as an opportunity to live in a different way and away from offending. It not only gave him a reason and excuse to do different things with new people but also have him proof to show to organisations like the police that he wasn’t involved in any unlawful activity.

In the Netherlands, electronic monitoring is being used to encourage and support people to live good and meaningful lives. There is also a requirement and support for individuals to participate in 26 hours a week of activity including working and volunteering.

If electronic monitoring is to be a tool to aid rehabilitation and integration then other things need to be in place alongside it to make it happen and this is where it gets more expensive and more complicated. For individuals to seek out and lead good lives they need skilled people to offer support, encouragement, direction and opportunity. They also need community based options for activities, volunteering, sport and jobs to actively participate in. When these things are in place then electronic monitoring will be a real tool for rehabilitation and integration.

Leaving behind the past


16th September

Yesterday I went along to a Positive Prison? Positive Futures group meeting which brought together a diverse group of people with an involvement or interest in criminal justice. Group meetings are held regularly and are designed to be informal organic discussions with no agenda, no flip charts, no post-it notes and no feedback. All that is required of participants is that they share and learn.

There were brief presentations from several organisations including Families OutsideYouth Community Support Agency and Scottish Canals then we got down to the business of envisioning our ideal future for those involved or affected by criminal justice issues.

Each table was asked to come up with one idea that we could put into action immediately. I was sharing a table with staff from Paws for Progress, Mellow Parenting, Families Outside, Criminal Justice Voluntary Sector Forum and Edinburgh Book Festival.

A major theme of the day was how we can eliminate the stigma of being a ‘former offender’ since this often regarded as an obstacle to individuals being successful in obtaining employment. Anecdotally, people with convictions report that even when they are appropriately qualified and experienced enough to meet job criteria and gain an interview, their past means that they are rarely the ‘preferred candidate’ in an increasingly competitive job market.

Our group produced an idea for an awareness raising campaign around this issue to tie into Youth Community Support Agency’s Twitter campaign #justlikeyou which will be officially launched in November this year. Pooling our organisational expertise and considering our diverse resources, we proposed using common interests and life choices like owning a dog or having children to highlight the links (rather than the differences) between people in general everyday life.

The discussions were lively, informative and good fun and it was a good way of meeting like-minded people working in criminal justice. However we all agreed that there was still a way to go to win over the general public and the media at large who mostly take a judgemental attitude to ‘former offenders’.

Taking a diverse approach to social care

On a recommendation from Debbie McColgan of Inspiring Scotland, I met with Pat Black of Diversity Matters, a voluntary sector organisation based in Edinburgh that builds capacity, facilitates project design, provides training and brings individuals and organisations together to examine ideas and find creative solutions to identified issues.

Diversity Matters work with individuals to identify what makes a good purposeful life for them and with organisations and agencies (e.g. social work departments) to investigate how to accommodate these elements within existing structures and processes.

Some innovative examples of individuals using a ‘personalised’ approach include a former addict who had retrained as a fitness instructor and wanted to cover up older unwanted tattoos that didn’t fit her new more positive body image. Another person needed oils and equipment to train as an acupuncturist and set up her own business. Subsequently she offered free sessions to other former drug users in exchange for the use of a treatment room in a recovery based organisation. One woman wanted to get a passport so she could go abroad for the first time in her life.

A number of small grants (e.g. £100-£200 per person) helped to make these things possible. Perhaps surprisingly, individuals did not ask for larger amounts of ‘free’ money and were keen to return any unspent monies. All recipients of support agreed that the money had helped them to achieve their goals but they also stated that the experience of being trusted was of greater value to them. Additionally, they had been inspired to think creatively about their own lives and had established positive relationships with support agencies for the future.

Diversity Matters works with mixed groups of service users and provider organisations. While it can be difficult for social care professionals to set aside a couple of days for any training or facilitated event, the majority of participants report that they enjoy the process and appreciate the opportunity to think in new and creative ways about their roles. Post event, innovative ways of keeping in touch are used including asking for feedback by text which has resulted in a rapid and high feedback rate, as opposed to traditional survey type questionnaires.