The Scottish Government has announced that it is going to start electronically tagging more offenders as part of its new plans to reduce the prison population in the country. Scotland currently has one of the highest prison populations in Western Europe, with about 142 prisoners per 100,000 people.
Imprisonment comes at a cost, both financial and social. Scotland started using electronic tagging in 2002. It allows the justice system to use GPS monitoring to track the whereabouts of released prisoners while allowing them to continue working and maintaining contact with their families.
Experts claim that tagging can address the prison population issue for the short term, but it is debatable whether it reduces reoffending in the long term. They claim that tagging does not get to the root of why people commit crimes.
Experts point towards Scotland’s last attempt at increasing the tagging of prisoners. In 2006, Scotland increased the number of prisoners that were tagged and released into their communities. It was seen as a way to reduce overcrowding in prisons. However, the justice system did not include more strategies to make tagging successful. With no clear-cut strategy on sentencing, it led to an exponential rise in the number of prisoners.
Presently, private security contractor G4S is responsible for monitoring the tags. Experts claim that for electronic tagging to be a success, the security contractor should work in conjunction with social workers and other points of contact that tagged prisoners have to keep in touch with, rather than using the contractor to replace these professionals. This is because criminal justice support workers have the expertise in helping prisoners and offenders and can easily pinpoint any change in their behaviour. However, with social workers already stretched, it is necessary to increase their numbers if more offenders are going to be given community sentences.
This could be an opportunity for security contractors who are looking to make a difference in the communities in which they operate.