Development of Electronic Monitoring in Scotland - Analysis of Consultation Responses

In September 2013, the Scottish Government embarked upon a period of consultation to examine options for the development of electronic monitoring in Scotland. This consultation sought views on the operation of the current electronic monitoring service as well as options for future development of the service.

5 Other Electronic Monitoring Issues

Alcohol monitoring

5.1 The consultation paper explained that a recent technological development in remote electronic monitoring is the capability to remotely monitor alcohol consumption. The paper went on to describe arrangements that are already in place to tackle alcohol misuse, the relationship between alcohol and offending and measures that might be possible under existing legislative and technical constraints.

The role of remote alcohol monitoring for use with an offender cohort

5.2 Question 18 asked: 'What, if any, role do you believe remote alcohol monitoring should have for use with an offender cohort? Why?' Thirty-nine respondents addressed this question in their responses.

5.3 The predominant theme in responses to this question was agreement that there may be a role for remote alcohol monitoring as an additional tool in a broader repertoire of measures to monitor and support offenders and potentially help reduce offending and deliver wider societal benefits.

5.4 Several respondents included comments or referred to data that highlights the significance of alcohol in relation to crime and one other public sector respondent commented: "The criminal justice system provides an excellent opportunity to engage with offenders, who have previously exhibited alcohol related violence and provide interventions to address this".

5.5 Two further main themes were evident amongst responses to this question. First and foremost, and reflecting comments at earlier questions, there was widespread comment that monitoring alone is unlikely to address problems of alcohol misuse and that access to treatment options and support as part of an integrated package will be required.

5.6 Second, there were wide ranging comments as to the circumstances in which remote alcohol monitoring might be appropriate, helpful, or particularly helpful. Most commonly, with reference in 11 responses, respondents saw it as potentially helpful in cases where alcohol use is a key risk factor / for persistent offenders linked to alcohol-related offending. Other suggestions included:

  • As part of a CPO;
  • As an alternative to prison;
  • As a condition of release / parole;
  • In the case of problem drinkers, rather than necessarily dependent drinkers (one respondent, however, noted that a tool which brought alcohol use to light and therefore allowed further opportunity for support and motivation to avoid alcohol use in a public health manner might still be of value in the case of chronic alcoholics);
  • For those who have committed offences involving serious harm whilst under the influence of alcohol and / or those where compliance with less intrusive measures has been problematic;
  • For certain categories of serious, violent and sex offenders who require close monitoring and supervision;
  • For persons released on HDC and who are not permitted to consume alcohol;
  • In cases where parents require to address alcohol and drug issues before having access/care of their child(ren) again.

5.7 A smaller number of respondents cited examples of circumstances where the use of remote alcohol monitoring might have potentially adverse impacts. These included:

  • Occasions where alcohol use is given as an excuse for offending e.g. domestic abuse. One respondent felt it might psychologically assist with dissociation from taking responsibility for one's own behaviour, reinforcing that alcohol was the 'reason' for the offence.
  • In some black and minority ethnic communities or for religious reasons that might impact; one respondent felt that remote alcohol monitoring might further ostracise and reinforce stigma within certain communities e.g. Muslim or Sikh.

5.8 The next most commonly recurring theme, noted in comments from six respondents, related to the need for more data or pilot evidence to be available, or for pilot studies in Scotland to assess further the accuracy of the technology and / or the effectiveness of remote alcohol monitoring.

5.9 Two other respondents cited data from the United States that indicated some success of remote alcohol monitoring in reducing recidivism and one of these, a private sector organisation, also referred to a volunteer pilot programme conducted by Barlinnie prison in 2012 using SCRAM sobriety tags.

5.10 Other issues that were cited by smaller numbers of respondents included the need for more information on the costs associated with remote alcohol monitoring and/ or the cost effectiveness relative to alternative interventions or treatments, proportionality and also questions or requests for clear guidance regarding both appropriate use and response to/management of any breaches.

Further exploration of remote alcohol monitoring service

5.11 Question 19 went on to ask 'Should remote alcohol monitoring service on either a voluntary or compulsory basis (and within or outwith the criminal justice system) be further explored? Why?' Thirty-six responses included comments relating to this question.

5.12 The overriding theme in responses was one of agreement that remote alcohol monitoring should be further explored. Thirty-two respondents' comments conveyed explicit or implicit agreement that some form of further exploration should be undertaken, compared with two respondents, both local authorities, who disagreed; the remaining two who commented (a partnership and another independent and professional body) made observations without clearly indicating either agreement or disagreement.

5.13 Seven respondents clearly suggested that further exploration should be on a voluntary basis, at least in the first instance.

5.14 Many comments served to reinforce or reiterate key themes from question 18 and earlier chapters of the report. For example, the need for this to be part of a wider package of measures not only to monitor but also support change, and the importance of using any available tools to help tackle the prevalence of alcohol in crime within Scotland.

5.15 Amongst respondents who favoured a voluntary basis for further exploration, a key theme was the support this could provide for those who feel they would benefit from additional accountability to control their drinking. In addition, one independent and professional body noted that this would help "justify not drinking to peers and helps them to resist relapse on a personal level".

5.16 A further recurring theme, particularly amongst respondents favouring a voluntary basis in the first instance, is the need to test the efficiency and effectiveness of the technology within a voluntary context.

5.17 Amongst the small number (four respondents) who explicitly favoured compulsory measures, some alluded to the likely greater effectiveness of compulsory measures.

5.18 A number of comments related to the cost and resource implications, and specifically the cost effectiveness, of remote alcohol testing on a voluntary or compulsory basis either within or outwith the criminal justice system. Four respondents, most notably local authorities, felt that further information on the cost effectiveness and value of remote alcohol testing relative to other tools would be desirable. One local authority commented that it might provide a cost effective alternative to custody and a third sector respondent noted that remote alcohol monitoring might not be cost effective if there were no sanctions for non-compliance. A partnership respondent who felt this should be progressed on a statutory basis commented that there could be resourcing implications per se and potentially difficulties in determining who should respond to breaches in real time.

5.19 Other comments regarding further exploration included:

  • The relationship between tagging and alcohol misuse, which may lead to children being more vulnerable if a parent has to remain in the house and misuses alcohol / substances with the children present;
  • An observation that remote alcohol monitoring is likely to be challenged under Human Rights law, albeit the independent and professional body that commented believed these challenges could be overcome;
  • That consideration should be given towards any programme involving the use of a remote alcohol device being supported by an allocated supervising officer or mentor.

A national criminal justice appointment service reminder

5.20 The paper discussed a further issue in relation to technology, specifically the potential for an electronic reminder service to be provided by the electronic monitoring service provider whereby messages can be sent to the display screens on Home Monitoring Units and/or to the mobile phone of offenders using the contacts database and call scheduling software. The paper noted that similar "nudge" schemes have decreased rates of missed appointments and that whilst some local authorities in Scotland already run similar schemes there may be economies of scale to running such a service nationally.

5.21 Question 20 asked 'Should a national criminal justice appointments reminder service be introduced? Why?' Thirty-five responses included comments addressing this question.

5.22 There were relatively disparate views as to whether a national reminder service should be introduced with eight respondents broadly agreeing, six respondents disagreeing and thirteen suggesting a degree of agreement but with cautionary notes or caveats. Two respondents offered comments without a definitive view of either agreement or disagreement. The main themes that emerged in comments were consistent regardless as to whether respondents agreed or disagreed, and related primarily to the cost effectiveness of a national service and the need for a national service.

5.23 In relation to need, several respondent organisations indicated that they already use a form of reminder service and some went on to question whether a national service was necessary if local facilities are in place, whilst others welcomed the suggestion.

5.24 The perceived benefit of a national service was frequently linked to queries regarding cost effectiveness; one local authority respondent who expressed welcome for discussion of a national scheme commented that: "This authority already operates an electronic reminder service and believes that it can be a very useful tool to remind service users of their appointment times. Our system works through sending SMS text messaging to mobile phones through a central provider for a relatively small monthly cost". Another respondent (partnership) commented: "This is a superficially attractive suggestion, but as pointed out in the consultation document, local authorities have their own arrangements for reminding offenders about appointments and the cost of replacing those arrangements with a national system tied to a contract would have to be taken into account."

5.25 There were also mixed views expressed regarding the efficacy of this type of scheme. Some respondents suggested this could be helpful to those with chaotic lives and others indicated that those with chaotic lives would be least likely to benefit.

5.26 A third sector respondent commented "staff already operate this system. They send a text the day before a meeting which is very helpful with chaotic service users who are far more likely to attend meetings when they are reminded of them in advance."

5.27 In contrast, a partnership respondent observed: "We have piloted text messaging to remind individuals and this has been shown to make little difference in attendance rates. One of the challenges is the chaotic nature of many individuals with substance problems and the fact that contact details can change on a regular basis." The respondent also added that: "Cognisance must also be given to the current welfare changes and inequalities in Scotland. These changes and inequalities can make it difficult for offenders to maintain contact with services due to constant change of address, lack of transport, lack of finance to purchase/maintain mobile phones and poor health status."

5.28 Another theme that was evident in a small number of responses related to the merits or otherwise of an initiative that removes or alleviates personal responsibility to remember appointments, and whether this is to the long term benefit or detriment of offenders.

5.29 Other considerations that were noted in responses at this question included:

  • Potential concerns regarding data protection/security and confidentiality linked to a national database;
  • A perception of depersonalisation through use of a national service;
  • Increased bureaucracy.

Additional comments on any aspect of electronic monitoring

5.30 The final question of the consultation paper invited respondents to give any additional views they had on any aspect of electronic monitoring, either GPS or RF, not covered elsewhere in the document. A total of 17 organisations provided additional comments at this question or elsewhere in their response that have not been reported under other specific questions.

5.31 Several respondents provided additional background information about their organisation and its role and some expressed gratitude for the opportunity to submit their views.

5.32 There was comment, notably from CJAs, that it will be important to constantly consider and review the best use of technological developments as increased functionality emerges.

5.33 Reflecting consistent themes earlier in the report, several respondents commented again that electronic monitoring is only one tool in facilitating desistance from offending. Once again, respondents cautioned that an integrated approach is important.

5.34 CJAs cited data linked to potentially adverse effects associated with young people under current RF monitoring, particularly within a home environment.

5.35 In relation to children and young people specifically, a third sector respondent also reiterated that support and supervision must accompany any electronic monitoring programme for children and young people and that in isolation it will not change people's beliefs and attitudes or reduce offending behaviour.

5.36 Another public sector respondent commented that where electronic monitoring is used in early release as HDC it could be used in conjunction with robust risk assessments and following a social work assessment. Similarly, a partnership commented that: "EM should always be considered on the basis of a robust risk assessment and the means found to ensure that its use is targeted on discrete groups/categories of offender. In this context there may be a need to restrict availability within a clear set of eligibility criteria."

5.37 The question was posed by CJAs as to how welfare reform will impact on the use of electronic monitoring, in particular the Spare Room subsidy.

5.38 One local authority commented that "any increase in the use of electronic monitoring needs to result in both a decrease in the amount of people being sent to prison and also an increase in the safety of the public".

5.39 Other comments included:

  • The importance of ensuring any use of GPS meets the tests of proportionality and ECHR compliance;
  • The need to ensure that the GPS technology used to monitor offenders is up to date in order to avoid errors in establishing an offender's location;
  • The need for reference in legislation to procedures relating to the retention and destruction of personal data to which electronic monitoring might give rise;
  • That legislation should be written to suit the scope of the technology currently available and to allow for some future development of the technology;
  • The practical operation of the GPS tag device needs to be designed for ease of operation with ongoing development of the power use and recharging process to reduce the operational barrier for people wearing it;
  • The training of people handing down sentences should include special information on the options available within community sentences, especially as the use of electronic monitoring is being developed;
  • Concerns regarding possible implications for staff in social work if a national reminder service is introduced and they do not initiate the electronic alerts, for example that offender's legal representative could use this as a reason he/she did not attend an appointment;
  • Questions around why the consultation was launched without prior research and testing in Scotland to demonstrate effectiveness;
  • Concerns relating to the use of GPS for offenders on unescorted and home leave, suggesting that for those that would adhere to the conditions there is limited use to this technology and those that abscond may remove the tag;
  • An observation that the presumption about use for sex offenders serving custodial sentences of over 4 years seems to contradict those other areas of the consultation, such as bail and voluntary use ;
  • Concerns that the use of electronic monitoring at all raises controversial ethical and human rights questions;
  • Concern that those tendering to supply GPS monitoring could only quote acceptable unit costs if it was rolled out on a wider basis than is strictly appropriate.


Email: Susan Bulloch

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