Breaching home detention could be made criminal offence in Scotland

Written by Jenni Davidson on 26 October 2018 in News

New restrictions will also make offenders charged with violent crimes, possession of an offensive weapon or with links to organised crime ineligible for electronic tagging

Electronic tag - Image credit: Arne Dedert/DPA/PA Images

Breaching home detention curfew (HDC) could be made a criminal offence in Scotland, as it is in England and Wales, Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf has announced.

At present an offender who absconds from home detention can only be returned to prison to serve the remainder of their existing sentence and police have limited powers to search for them.

New restrictions will also make offenders charged with violent crimes, possession of an offensive weapon or who have links to organised crime ineligible for electronic tagging in the community.

Yousaf made the announcement in response to reviews by the inspectors of the police and prisons in Scotland, HMICS and HMIPS, of weaknesses in the current process for managing home detention.

The reviews into procedures for releasing offenders on home detention were ordered following the murder of Craig McClelland by James Wright in Paisley in July 2017.

Wright, who had 16 previous convictions, including two for knife crime, had broken a home detention curfew in February 2017 and been unlawfully at large for five months at the time of the murder.

Although the reviews found current procedures were followed in the case of Wright – although they criticised a lack of police records of what was done to track him down – the reports identified a number of areas of procedure that needed to be changed.

In its review HMICS found that as of 29 June 2018 44 offenders were ‘unlawfully at large’ by the Scottish Prison Service – 24 of them for over four years.

Of the 44 recorded as at large by the prison service, only six were recorded in the Police National Computer, making meaning the status of the other 38 would have been unknown to police forces across the UK.

In its report, HMIPS expressed “surprise” that Police Scotland do not acknowledge when they receive notification from the Scottish Prison Service (SPS) that someone has breached HDC, nor do they provide details of what is being done to apprehend that person.

Yousaf said that improvements had already been made and as of Thursday morning only eight offenders were unlawfully at large.

A number of recommendations were made by both HMICS and HMIPS, including having a single point of contact in each police force for HDC breaches, greater liaison between the prison service and police to assess the risk of releasing an offender on HDC, real-time responses to breaches and higher prioritisation of finding the absconded offender and returning them to jail.

Yousaf promised that all the recommendations of both inspectorates would be accepted in full by the Scottish Government, the police and the prison service and he intended to take “immediate action”.

He also committed to follow up in six months to check that improvements had been made.

Some changes could be made through amendments to the Management of Offenders Bill that is currently being considered by the Scottish Parliament and other may not need legislation.

Speaking to MSPs, Yousaf said: "I would like to begin by expressing my sincere condolences to Craig McClelland's family, who I met with this morning to discuss these reports and how the Government will respond.

"Home detention curfew is an important part of our justice system. It prepares prisoners for release, reintegrates them into the community and reduces the risk of them reoffending.

"At any one time there are around 300 people under these arrangements in our communities and the vast majority of those are completed successfully without any breaches.

"I believe that the actions that the Scottish Government, Scottish Prison Service and Police Scotland have all committed to today will provide confidence that there is the right balance between successful reintegration and protecting public safety.

"Indeed, much of what has been identified has already been addressed by the police and prison service over the summer and, as a consequence, the number of people considered unlawfully at large has been brought down to single figures.

"This is only the start of the process. I have made clear I expect real and demonstrable progress and have asked both Inspectorates to review progress in six months’ time."

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