Social Work Scotland
Position Statement on Electronic Monitoring
Social Work Scotland is the professional leadership body for social workers throughout Scotland. It is a membership body and exists to influence policy and legislation as well as supporting the development of the social work profession.
This statement sets out our agreed position on electronic monitoring. This is view that our members support. As the use of EM develops in Scotland we will revisit this statement to make sure it reflects the current issues and challenges of using technology as part of the criminal justice system.
There is now an international evidence-base strongly suggesting that using electronic monitoring has a crime reduction effect for the duration of the monitoring period. While there continues to be a place for standalone EM ( i.e. a Restriction of Liberty Order [ RLO]) and Home Detention Curfew ( HDC), and potentially at the pre-trial stage as an alternative to remand, the provision of support alongside EM, where required, can be a crucial element if longer term change and desistance is to be achieved.
Criminal justice social workers ( CJSW) engage with people who have been involved in offending behaviour in many different, evidenced-based ways, including providing support to enable desistance, addressing offending behaviour, establishing trusting relationships, challenging inappropriate behaviour, highlighting the impact of such behaviour on victims and assisting individuals to overcome problems including substance use. EM has an important role in assisting individuals to end or reduce their involvement in offending and to successfully (re)integrate into their local community, including after a prison sentence or indeed utilising this technology as part of a future joint community / prison sentence. Used effectively EM can contribute significantly to public protection and provide judges with a direct alternative to custodial sentences.
Used proportionately EM is not at odds with human rights. This very much depends how it is developed, deployed and overseen. As there is no single way of using EM, and various regimes exist varying in intensity Social Work Scotland believe that we have a professional and social responsibility to play a lead role in shaping the legal and policy frameworks in which EM is used in Scotland. In our view it is essential to ensure that developments in EM are commensurate with an ethic of care, proportionality based on assessment of need and risk, human rights principles, data protection, and the broader values and aspirations of Social Work.
Social work, the judiciary and the police, need to work together to shape the decisions and debates on the forms of EM which may be used in Scotland, including GPS tracking and trans-dermal alcohol monitoring. These debates and decisions must be informed by evidence and ensure we collaboratively develop a process to ensure adequate scrutiny to manage the potential complexities of use of this technology and to ensure that technology alone does not dictate future use.
Research tends to show that while people that have been involved in offending and their families often find EM challenging, it enables pro-social and protective factors to be sustained. As EM regimes themselves vary, there is no single effect of EM, and much depends on the type of technology, the circumstances of the individual being restricted, the other measures used (or not) alongside EM (including the provision of support) and the severity or flexibility of the response applied to violations of requirements. It can be seen as a way of helping a person to structure their daily life and a spur to desistance as well as a legitimate punishment. It is possible to design EM-regimes which are destructive, degrading and counter-productive and we believe this reinforces the need for Social Work Scotland to play an active role as part of our professional responsibility to ensure that EM is used in ways that are effective and humane.
Social Work Scotland recommendations:
- Social Work Scotland support a strong presumption against short-term prison sentences and the commitment to reserving prison only for those people that because of the seriousness of their crime(s) and for the protection of the public require to be incarcerated. EM is a sufficient form of additional control for many convicted people and through a wider understanding of its existing and potential use, integrated with other interventions, it could play a significant part in reducing the overuse of short-term prison sentences in Scotland.
- Social Work Scotland support the assessment for EM as part of every Criminal Justice Social Work Report ( CJSWR) and the proposal of this disposal where it is assessed as appropriate in the professional judgment of the report writer. The proposal in a report should always set out what the purpose of monitoring is and the level of restriction required for risk management.
- Social Work Scotland endorse the proposal to explore the development of LS/CMI (the Level of Service & Case Management Inventory, the risk and needs assessment tool used by CJSW in Scotland) to assist social workers in assessing for EM when a court report is being prepared. A CJSW should assess whether a standalone RLO or an RLO with support is required. Currently, at the point of sentence, a RLO can be made alongside a Community Payback Order combining CJSW support to address offending behaviour with tangible elements of control and punishment. It is recognised that this may not be the best legal framework for integrating these two measures and Social Work Scotland would support consideration of a specific electronic monitoring requirement as part of a Community Payback Order at the first point of sentence.
- Social Work Scotland recognises there is a risk that actively promoting the use of EM leads to it being used inappropriately as a sentence or as a prison licence condition and where it is not proportionate with a person's risk of offending or assessed as required. Decisions about supervision must continue to be based on the assessment of risk and needs and recognition that there is still a role for stand-alone EM where support is not required. Where statutory support for rehabilitation is assessed as required, a Community Payback Order with supervision alongside a RLO may also be preferable to imposing a short prison sentence and then quickly releasing a person on a Home Detention Curfew, as it would prevent disruption of pro-social elements to the individual and families lives, including sustaining employment; and, given the high cost of prison, it would make better use of scarce resources which could be better transferred into the community.
- Social Work Scotland supports the recent Scottish Government consultation on EM and considers there is considerable scope to develop its use in Scotland in creative and imaginative ways. Satellite tracking using GPS technology has significant potential to provide real-time monitoring of the movement of people that are assessed as posing a risk to others, and to enable the use of both inclusion and exclusion zones of various sizes. Remote alcohol monitoring devices can enforce prohibitions or restrictions on the use of alcohol, which may be helpful components of a treatment plan enhanced by close working between criminal Justice social work and alcohol /health services.
- Social Work Scotland believes GPS technology or remote alcohol monitoring does not always need to be linked to the use of statutory measures. There is considerable scope for agencies to identify and collectively engage with individuals on a voluntary basis either pre-release or in the community and, alongside packages of support, to use EM to encourage desistance.
- Social Work Scotland above all believes there needs to be a move away from a technology driven approach to EM practice to focussing on the goals that have to be achieved and then considering which kind of equipment best fits with the goals that have to be achieved.
- Social Work Scotland recognises that debates on "proportionality" and "net widening" in respect of EM are complex. Whilst EM does not necessarily need to be reserved only for those individual's posing a significant degree of harm to others or particular categories of offences or as an alternative to custody, Social Work Scotland believes there is an important principle which links the level of restriction with the seriousness of the situation which an individual faces due to their involvement in offending.
- Social Work Scotland recognise there is considerable scope to be creative in how restrictions are applied; it may only be required for short periods when a person is at risk of offending ( e.g. this might be linked to attendance at football matches) and the prospect of a reduction in the period of restriction can act as a legitimate incentive to comply and engage with an order.
- Social work Scotland recognises EM is not problem-free. No community penalty is. We recognise the requirement to manage the expectations of stakeholders including the judiciary, the press, public opinion and those subject to the restrictions and their families. It affects other family members, as prison does, but differently.
- Social Work Scotland recognised EM raises ethical and practical issues that other community measures do not. And there are clear resource implications for CJSW if there is an increased use of EM and as new methods are developed and deployed. Social Work Scotland considers that it is imperative the Scottish Government recognise and acknowledge this and make a commitment to providing additional new funding to ensure the increased use of EM is successful.
In light of the emerging evidence-base and the professional obligation to shape these technologies in ethically acceptable ways, there are clear grounds for attempting to use EM to improve penal practice in Scotland. As such Social Work Scotland is committed to play a major role in the policy debate regarding the use of electronic monitoring and view the points illustrated in this statement as key areas of that debate.