HLS Gives Evidence to Parliament

HLS Gives Evidence to Parliament

Are we trying to reduce our imprisonment rates and create a more humane penal system? Will we be able to use the bill to reduce our use of the most severe sanction?’ (Howard League Scotland). 

On Tuesday the 15th of May HLS was invited to Hollyrood to give evidence to the Justice Committee on the current iteration of the Management of Offenders 2018 Bill. This will be a significant piece of legislation that seeks to (1) extend the use of electronic monitoring and open up the possibility of using GPS tracking, (2) reduce the periods of time people with convictions have to disclose these convictions to prospective employers, and (3) amendments to the constitution of the parole board.

As part of a panel of witnesses, HLS raised questions about the underlying aims of the bill: is this bill intended to reduce the use of imprisonment or increase surveillance and security? The panel also pointed to serious concerns for reintegration and inclusion.

Aims of the Bill:

  • How can we use the extension of electronic monitoring (EM) to reduce Scotland’s staggeringly large prison population and not as a risk averse technology that increases surveillance and security in the community?
  • Electronic monitoring should be used to support the goals of rehabilitation and reintegration and not be seen as an end in and of itself. It will work best if it is one tactic in a suite of measures that involve the skills of mentoring and/or criminal justice social work, for example.
  • If EM is targeted at the prison population and used as a means to increase the frequency and length of temporary release from prison it can help reduce the prison population, support reintegration and maintain public safety.
  • However, we need data on the uses of temporary release and how EM influences it.
  • There was resounding support from the witnesses to tackle Scotland’s use of remand. Remand is not addressed in the current bill. Yet we know that 15% of our prison population are there on remand have not been found guilty, and the majority of them will not go on to receive a sentence.

 

Concerns:

  • Developing EM may be part of penal expansion rather than reduction. Innovation has often caused up-tariffing and net-widening without reducing number of people imprisoned. In Scotland in recent years we have seen massive expansion of community orders in Scotland and no decrease in the use of imprisonment.
  • Excessive or disproportionate use of exclusion zones will denigrate what it means to be a citizen in Scotland. We need to set a specific maximum spatial size or distance—in metres or kilometres— and a maximum number of areas that can become exclusion zones. We have to protect citizenship and the reintegration aims of penal policy. 
  •  Do we want to have a privatised EM system? If Scotland aspires to be closer in practice to the Scandinavian models of criminal justice, we should not continue to follow the UK example of privatised provision of EM. Where it is not outsourced electronic monitoring is better integrated with probation/social work services.
  • The bill still demands lifelong disclosure of criminal records for people who have served 48months or longer. This is stigmatising and exclusionary as people are forever expected to reveal their past convictions, no matter how much time has passed.

 

Read more:

HLS's Submission to the Justice Committee on the Management of Offenders Bill 2018

Justice Committee Official Report on Evidence Session 15 May 2018

 

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