The Scottish Government recently hosted a conference on the subject of Electronic Monitoring. It took place in Perth Concert Hall and had inputs from the cabinet Secretary for Justice, Michael Matheson MSP, Michiel van der Veen, a Dutch Judge and an international consultant in Electronic Monitoring and PP?PF in the shape of Pete, Hugh and Eddie sharing the lived experience.
The Scottish Government has established a working group on Electronic Monitoring. The conference was intended to widen the debate and to use the feedback generated to help inform the work and direction of that working group.
Michael Matheson opened the event with his vision of where electronic monitoring could be used. He stated that this was a great opportunity to examine the issues and to see where it fits in to the wider penal policy debate. Prison, he argued, should be seen as the punishment of last resort. Prison, and in particular short term sentences, can have an adverse effect on family life, employment, housing and benefits. It affects the desistance process and is a waste of human potential.
Community sentences now have the lowest levels of reoffending in 16 years. Mr Matheson believes that electronic monitoring has an important part to play on building upon that result. It allows a flexible and tailored response to offending whilst keeping links to families and employment.
Mr Matheson also stated that he thinks there is room for the newer version of GPS technology. This would not be as a replacement for the current radio based systems, but as an additional resource to be applied in certain circumstances to certain individuals. He issued a challenge to the working group to bring forward clear and firm recommendations regarding GPS.
The use of remote alcohol monitoring was also put forward. However, this would be part of a person centred approach that helps to address the underlying problems caused by the alcohol dependency as part of a more effective support package. Mr Matheson finished by stating the need for the working group to be “bold and ambitious” in taking the role of electronic monitoring forwards.
Next up was Dutch Judge Michiel van der Veen who also runs an electronic monitoring consultancy in Europe. He kept his presentation very much at the strategic level – advocating a much needed change of mind set in relation to electronic monitoring, a clearing of the “conceptual confusion that surrounds it” and a clearly defined “Goal Orientated Approach”.
Essentially he was arguing for almost a blank canvas to begin the process, we need to work out the proper outcomes, i.e. what do we want to achieve with electronic monitoring, and then look to the technology for solutions. He stressed that technology is just a tool and it is the goals and outcomes that are the most important.
Underpinning any approach should be the goals of: –
Speed – quick time to implement and quick action on breaches
Certainty – it has to be performed
Stringency – has to be strict
Judiciality – if GPS used then data should be property of the applicable court and not available to other agencies.
Mr van der Veen outlined the approach taken in Holland. Each magistrate/judge/prosecutor has access to an electronic monitoring “webstore” where the appropriate disposal can be combined from 11 different options. This is based upon the needs of the disposal and is not technology driven. There are other products available but the Dutch system restricted their access to only 11 items that cover the whole range of potential disposals.
The user interface was kept very simple so that its uptake would be easier to implement. Use of this system has almost doubled in a period of five years. There has been increased uniformity in practical applications of electronic monitoring and the whole process is better monitored and managed within the Dutch probation service. The expectations of stakeholders (the judiciary, press, politicians and public opinion!) have all been better managed.
The conference then broke into smaller groups for a workshop entitled “Challenging the status quo” followed by lunch.
The graveyard shift after lunch was a sharing of the lived experience as provided by Positive Prison? Positive Futures. Pete outlined a few ideas and suggestions from our perspective and then proceeded to “interview” Shug and Eddie in relation to their experience of being on the tag. The delivery was open, transparent, humorous and, at times, brutally honest. The next workshop started immediately afterwards and the feedback in my workshop was astounding. Participants were really listening to the messages coming across and took on board the most salient points for discussion. This workshop was titled “A bold approach, an ambitious future”.
The workshops were expertly summarised by the facilitators from Liddell Thomson. There followed a panel discussion at the end that included Arlene Stuart who is in charge of the workstream on Electronic Monitoring for the Scottish Government, Professor Mike Nellis from the University of Strathclyde and Andy Bruce in the chair.
The main question was how Arlene found the experience of wearing a tag. During the morning session Arlene had “volunteered” to wear a GPS tag. Arlene was open an honest about her very mixed experiences whilst making the important point that, although this was basically just an exercise, the feeling that keeping this on for a prolonged period of time would be a major difficulty.
The report was also the launch of a new report that has been compiled by Dr Hannah Graham and Professor Gill McIvor from Stirling University. The report gives an overview of Scottish and international evidence and experience of the uses, purposes and impact of electronic monitoring and is available from the SCCJR website.
Our friends in Scottish Justice Matters have also looked at this issue. An article from December 2013 highlights the questions put by Professor Nellis in relation to electronic monitoring.