Hannah Graham and Gill McIvor, University of Stirling, Scotland
We are currently undertaking the empirical fieldwork for the EU EM project as it relates to Scotland which – although part of the UK – has a completely distinctive and devolved criminal justice system. In Scotland, there are several different types of community-based orders and licences that act as alternatives to custody, or as opportunities for decarceration and release from custody. Electronic monitoring (EM) is available as a condition of early release from prison (Home Detention Curfew) and parole and it can also be used to monitor a community-based Restriction of Liberty Order (RLO) as a standalone option or in parallel with a Community Payback Order. In Scotland, radio frequency (RF) tagging is the only type of electronic monitoring technology currently in use, and it is mostly combined with a curfew restriction (as opposed to a restriction away from condition).
There are, however, some modest institutional differences in the use of Home Detention Curfews with prisoners and some wider geographical differences in the use of EM within other types of community-based orders across Scotland. To contextualise this, Scotland’s population of approximately 5.3 million people is comparative to the populations of Finland, Slovakia and Norway. Scotland is similar in total land area size to Austria and the Czech Republic. However, Scotland’s geography and the spread of its population is diverse, and the way in which criminal justice is structured in Scotland is based on a relatively localised approach, involving local authorities (Councils). Informed by existing statistics, as well as the perspectives and experiences of research participants, in part, our research seeks to better understand how and why geographic and institutional diversity in the use of EM across Scotland exists. Furthermore, some parts of Scotland are quite remote, meaning they are a significant travel distance from major centres and may also have intermittent coverage/signal for phones and other devices. These types of considerations and contextual factors are relevant to our research questions about how the use of current (RF) and new (GPS) EM technologies might potentially be developed in Scotland in the future.
Our part of the project is proceeding steadily: we have almost completed our observations (delayed slightly by a bad bout of flu) and are in the process of conducting interviews with a range of relevant stakeholders. Gaining access has been a little slower than anticipated but we now have agreement to participate by all of the stakeholder groups which we approached, and are conducting fieldwork in a number of different parts of the country. We are keen in particular to identify variations in the use of EM in different areas – both in the level of usage and more particularly in the way in which it is used – especially in relation to the creative use of curfew hours.
Our observations of EM in practice – covering both the National EM Centre and field visits – have provided rich data and interesting insights into the day to day operation of EM in Scotland and have, for example, begun to highlight issues relating to diversity – including gender, disability, ethnicity and age – and how they are responded to. Diversity is one lens, among others, which is helpful in our ongoing analysis of research data. It highlights the importance of those directly involved in EM identifying and co-producing more tailored and integrated responses to monitored people as individuals, within the parameters of legislative provisions and guided by EU frameworks and recommendations. It is already becoming clear that a one size approach to electronic monitoring does not fit all, and justice is best pursued with a relentless view of its purposes.
The timing of the EU project has also been fortuitous in that the award of the contract for it coincided with the publication by the Scottish Government of a consultation on the development of electronic monitoring in Scotland in autumn 2013. The EM consultation responses have now been published and the Scottish Government has, in turn, published its response. A Working Group on Electronic Monitoring was established by the Scottish Government in the autumn of 2014. A parallel piece of work that we have been commissioned to undertake for the Scottish Government (on behalf of the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research: www.sccjr.ac.uk) is reviewing international developments in the use of electronic monitoring for different types of offender, for different types of offences and with the use of different types of technology. It is hoped that this work will provide useful for the Working Group as it considers how the use of EM might be developed in Scotland to enhance its creativity and effectiveness.
Dr Hannah Graham is a Research Fellow in Criminology (Twitter: @DrHannahGraham), and Prof. Gill McIvor is a Professor of Criminology and Co-Director in the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research (@TheSCCJR), at the University of Stirling, Scotland. They both work on the Scottish component of the EU ‘Creativity and Effectiveness in the Use of Electronic Monitoring in Europe’ (@EMintheEU) research project.