Proposed Advances in Electronic Monitoring

Proposed Advances in Electronic Monitoring

The Scottish government recently introduced the Managment of Offenders (Scotland) Bill. HLS cautiously welcomes the proposed changes to electronic monitoring as a means to directly and assertively reduce Scotland’s troublingly high imprisonment rate. Our wariness, however, is rooted in our concerns about criminal justice net-widening. As we recently wrote, an increase in community sentences over the last decade has not impacted the rate at which Scottish courts give prison sentences. Moreover, the expansion and refinement of electronic monitoring (EM) poses other potential issues for social justice, desistance and citizenship, which HLS remains apprehensive about.

Part of the appeal of EM is that it is considerably cheaper than prison. However, there needs to be sound penological reasons underpinning its use and development. The Scottish government have made it clear that they are interested in reducing re-offending. As a tracking technology EM has no inherent rehabilitative capacities, however, and we are concerned that expanding its use may in fact undermine criminal justice social work. EM cannot replace the human contact and the positive relationship between a social worker and their supervisee. The encouragement and guidance provided by probation can be vital in supporting a person’s rehabilitation, this includes helping someone access education and employment, secure housing and address addiction. Moreover, EM cannot counter the other issues that often underlie offending, namely, socially inequality and lack of opportunities. Monitoring should not be misrepresented as centrally a tool for rehabilitation. Its use, therefore, should be only one among a suite of community supervision and rehabilitation measures.

If that becomes the case, and EM is but one tactic in an integrated programme of community supervision and surveillance, then the severity of punishment for breaching EM should remain in question. If a person who is tagged is generally succeeding in meeting the broader demands of supervision and desistance, we need to seriously consider if breach of EM curfews and exclusion areas should automatically cause a recall to prison.

HLS are also particularly concerned about the proposed creation of exclusion zones that could range "from a house, to specific street patterns, to a neighbourhood, to a whole city. GPS also allows more than one exclusion zone to be set. Using GPS technology to set exclusion zones can help create safe spaces for victims of crime", according to the Scottish government. We worry that a desire for effective and cheaper forms of criminal justice and community protection are superseding more ethical and social concerns about citizenship and reintegration. When people are denied access to large areas of public space, like city centres, it sends a clear statement that they do not belong here, that they do not deserve equal membership of Scottish society. When we block people from full social and civic association we degrade their citizenship as we make people criminal for moving through public spaces. We also blur the lines between the community and the prison. We strongly resist any suggestion that cities and neighbourhoods should be carved up into permitted territories and no-go zones. This has the long-term potential to create a community justice culture of security and exclusion in Scotland, rather than a culture of reintegration and social inclusion.

Relatedly, we know that in Scotland, like elsewhere, people sentenced to prison are largely drawn from the most disadvantaged communities. If the use of EM follows this pattern – and those being tagged and GPS tracked are concentrated in the most marginalised areas – the Scottish government risks converting neighbourhoods that are already hindered by social exclusion into prison-like places, where large sections of the population have restricted movement and liberty. Any attempt to reduce prison numbers and achieve the aims of social justice is seriously undermined if EM inadvertently creates communities of confinement across Scotland.

Any form of tagging and monitoring should be developed with these concerns in mind. EM can support rehabilitation, offer community protection and keep people within their families. But achieving the goals of community justice while mitigating the serious social and civic risks will require a delicate and critical balance. To begin to address some of these issues, and emphasise EM’s potential strengths, longer periods of supervision could be organised on a graded system, becoming increasingly less onerous, with stipulations and exclusions reduced, as time passes. As the Council of Europe wrote, ‘EM can certainly be used in ways which make an offender feel trusted, an important ingredient in the rehabilitation process’. Finally, long-term research is needed to carefully monitor the economic, rehabilitative and qualitative impact of EM on individuals, communities and Scottish civic life.

Read More:

The Scotsman: Scottish criminals ‘could be barred from entire cities’
BBC News: Use of electronic tags to be extended
Iriss (2017) Electronic monitoring in the criminal justice system



Category Penal Policy