News

30 Jun 2016

Research shows growing support for changes to the use of electronic monitoring tagging in Scotland

EMFindings and recommendations released in a new report by SCCJR criminologists Prof Gill McIvor and Dr Hannah Graham of the University of Stirling indicate support among criminal justice practitioners to make key changes to the use of electronic monitoring tagging in Scotland. Their study sought the views of criminal justice social workers, Scottish Prison Service staff, sheriffs, the Parole Board for Scotland, Police Scotland, G4S monitoring staff, Scottish Government policymakers, and a third-sector organisation.

Currently, the majority of electronically monitored orders made by Scottish courts and prisons do not involve supervision by criminal justice social workers or support from third sector services. Instead, most people are simply tagged and expected to stay home during curfews of up to 12 hours a day.

Dr Graham said: “Our findings suggest that the use of electronic monitoring in Scotland over the last 15 years can be characterised as relatively simple but stable in approach. There’s plenty of momentum among most participants in this study to pursue more innovative and tailored uses.

“Tagging and curfews alone don’t address the reasons why people commit crime. In line with international evidence, we recommend that tagging needs to be integrated with rehabilitative supports and opportunities to help people change their lives and leave crime behind.

“One approach to electronic monitoring simply doesn’t fit all. Involving criminal justice social workers will harness their practice wisdom in tailoring community sentences, and could reduce unnecessary uses of court time and resources – do sheriffs really need to decide on requests to change address?”

The Scottish prison population rate is one of the highest in Western Europe. One in every 700 people in Scotland are in prison. The Cabinet Secretary for Justice Michael Matheson MSP has called for strengthened and better integrated uses of electronic monitoring to help reduce Scotland’s prison population.

Like other community sentences, electronic monitoring (EM) is cheaper than custody in prison. In 2013, the average cost per EM order per day was estimated at £10.17 (source: Scottish Government, 2013). Recent figures show that some Scottish sheriffs and courts use electronically monitored Restriction of Liberty Orders (RLOs) as an alternative to a custodial sentence more than others, who barely use them at all. In 2015, the rate of Restriction of Liberty Orders imposed by sheriffs in Glasgow was 256% higher than that of their Edinburgh counterparts, with 314 RLOs imposed in Glasgow compared to 88 RLOs in Edinburgh (source: G4S, 2016).

Prof McIvor and Dr Graham worked on this project with an international research team of academics from England & Wales, Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands. Commissioned by the European Union, this electronic monitoring comparative study is the first of its kind in Europe.

This two year study took place following a Scottish Government national consultation on electronic monitoring in 2013, and the establishment of a Working Group on Electronic Monitoring in 2014.

The Scottish jurisdictional and international comparative findings were showcased at two international conferences with European policymakers and practitioners in Brussels and London in February and March 2016. In addition to jurisdictional reports and briefing papers in English, the comparative findings have been translated into French, Dutch and German.

The Scottish research report and a briefing paper summary are available online at the European research project website: http://emeu.leeds.ac.uk/