Parliamentary committee backs plans but says risk assessment is needed before embarking on rollout
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The Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee has backed Scottish Government plans to increase the use of electronic tagging in Scotland.
The proposals to increase electronic tagging to include new forms of tagging that can use GPS to monitor exact location and enforce exclusion zones or check for drugs and alcohol in a person’s system are one part of the government’s Management of Offenders Bill.
The bill includes a number of measures aimed at reducing reoffending, such as reducing the length of time that people with prior convictions must disclose convictions, making it easier for them to reintegrate into the community and get a job, a proposal the committee supported.
However, while the committee backed the Scottish Government plans for an expansion of electronic monitoring in principle, it warned that there must be robust risk assessment, effective enforcement to prevent breaches and appropriate support to help offenders in the community with issues such as housing, healthcare and finding employment.
It also expressed concerns that tagging should not lead to increased sentences, such where someone might otherwise have been given a fine, but was unlikely to be able to pay it.
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It added that it was a “missed opportunity” that the bill had not included the use of tagging for bail, but only as a sentence after conviction.
The committee’s report on stage one of the bill was delayed after inquiries were launched by regulators into the murder of Craig McClelland in Paisley by a killer who had breached a home detention curfew but not been returned to prison.
MSPs called for lessons learned from these reviews to be taken on board in any other use of electronic monitoring.
They also supported a proposal to create a new crime of being unlawfully at large for anyone breaching the terms of their electronic tagging order.
Committee convener Margaret Mitchell said: “This legislation is intended to cut reoffending rates in Scotland, and help people who have committed offences reintegrate into the community. These are worthy objectives which the committee supports. During scrutiny of the bill, members worked assiduously, seeking assurances that the right balance has been found between helping those with prior convictions to change their ways, whilst ensuring that public safety remains paramount.”
She added: “The committee is backing the overall aims of the bill, and fully supports changes to the rules around disclosing prior convictions. This is an important step towards helping people with convictions find gainful employment and be rehabilitated into society. However, the various measures in the bill must be properly resourced, including monitoring and enforcement provisions. And whilst the committee agrees in principle to greater use of electronic monitoring, it looks forward to working with the Scottish Government to strengthen the bill.
“This will involve ensuring improvements are made before any changes come into force, particularly around dealing swiftly and effectively with tagging breaches, and minimising risk.”