Scotland to introduce alcohol testing and GPS tracking for tagged offenders

New tag technology part of government’s development of community interventions helping reconviction rates to 17-year low

Offenders could have their sweat tested for alcohol or have their movements tracked using GPS tagging under community sentencing plans announced by the Scottish government.

The roll-out of new tagging technology, including transdermal alcohol monitoring, which tests the amount of ethanol in sweat, was one of the recommendations of a working group of experts which the Scottish government will now implement.

Announcing the programme, the justice secretary, Michael Matheson, linked the SNP government’s development of effective community interventions with a reconviction rate that is at a 17-year low, driven largely by a decline in youth reoffending.

Matheson said: “There will always be crimes where a prison sentence is the only reasonable response, but international research backs our own experience that short-term sentences are not the most effective way to bring down reoffending.”

The group of experts included the pioneering violence reduction authority Karyn McCluskey, who was last month appointed chief executive of the new body Community Justice Scotland and tasked with spearheading a further drive to reduce reoffending.

The Stirling University criminologist Hannah Graham, who carried out the report studies, said: “The recommendation to introduce electronic monitoring as an alternative to remand opens up extra opportunities to address [the high numbers of people on remand in prison] by closely monitoring and supporting more people in the community pre-trial, without losing sight of the need to ensure public safety.”

Taking evidence from Dutch and Scandinavian models of tagging, the working group also recommended that electronic monitoring should be part of a wider package of support delivered locally.

But Graham added: “Tagging and curfews alone don’t address the underlying reasons why people commit crime, so the working group’s recommendations are welcome for how they emphasise integration with rehabilitative supports to help leave crime behind.”

Noting that alcohol is a factor in more than half of violent crimes in Scotland, Alison Douglas, the chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, responded that “the use of sobriety tags must be part of a much broader programme of support for offenders to address their drinking problems”.

While GPS has been piloted with some success in immigration cases and for use with child sex offenders who have completed custodial sentences in the rest of the UK, a spokesperson said that the Scottish government intended to look at the implications of using tagging more widely, rather than narrow the focus on specific offences.


Libby Brooks Scotland correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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