Management of Offenders Bill passed by Scottish Parliament
Person with an electronic tag - Image credit: Hannah Graham
A bill that expands the use of electronic tagging for criminals has been passed by MSPs.
The Management of Offenders Bill allows courts to add electronic monitoring to a community payback order and expands the type of tagging that can be used in Scotland.
The aim is to increase the use of community sentences as an alternative to prison and to support rehabilitation and reduce reoffending.
The legislation introduces GPS tags, which make it possible to create exclusion zones to improve tracking of those monitored and protect victims, in addition to the current RF tags that are used at the moment for home detention curfews.
Monitoring of drug use will also be available as part of a community sentence.
Another key change covered by the bill is it reduces how long certain convictions must be disclosed to employers to help people move into work, which is expected to reduce reoffending.
The bill also strengthens powers of recall from home detention curfew by introducing a new offence of remaining unlawfully at large and granting the police greater powers to help track down anyone who absconds.
This comes follows the murder of Craig McLelland by James Wright in 2017, after Wright removed his tag and breached a home detention curfew.
Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf said: “Our firm focus on rehabilitation in custody and in the community including mentoring and community payback orders is working with reconviction rates at the lowest level in twenty years.
“The development of electronic monitoring improves the sentencing options available while strengthening home detention curfews provides the necessary protection to reintegrate prisoners into the community, reducing the risk of them reoffending.
“Progressive changes to disclosure allow people to move on with their lives into employment, proven to reduce the likelihood of further offending, helping keep crime down and communities safe.”
Dr Hannah Graham, a criminologist at Stirling University and a leading electronic monitoring researcher whose work informed the Management of Offenders Bill, said: “The bill’s passage means positive and pragmatic reforms of electronic monitoring tagging, disclosure and parole can now progress.
“International evidence shows that integrating uses of electronic tagging with community-based supervision and support is often more effective and rehabilitative than simply using technology on its own.
“This bill enables electronic monitoring to be added as an option, alongside other options like supervision and treatment, in CPOs, giving criminal justice social workers a key role.”
The bill was opposed by the Scottish Conservatives, who wanted better protection for victims, including making cutting off an electronic tag a standalone offence.
The party has also expressed concern about the completion rates of community payback orders, with only 40 per cent of drug treatment testing orders currently completed by the offender.
Scottish Conservative shadow justice secretary Liam Kerr said: “It’s clear that the SNP is using this bill as a ruse to empty prisons.
“Instead of improving the rehabilitation system and properly resourcing jails, the nationalists would rather watch dangerous criminals walk free from court.
“We firmly oppose this bill because we are completely unsatisfied that risk assessments for electronic monitoring or response to breaches are robust enough for the victims of crime.
“It is completely unacceptable that cutting off a tag will not be deemed a criminal offence, something that will just embolden the most dangerous of individuals who already have contempt for the law.
“And it’s not just the SNP which is letting down victims of crime with this soft-touch approach.
“Labour, the Lib Dems and the Greens should have a long hard look at themselves for not standing up to this too.”