THOUSANDS of offenders will be tagged on their release from jail under plans being considered by ministers to reduce reoffending rates.
The scheme will see as many as 16,000 criminals who are allowed out of jail each year before the end of their sentences kept under electronic surveillance to enforce curfews and limits on travelling.
However, opposition MSPs last night accused the Executive of failing to deal with the root of the problem and demanded that offenders should serve the full term of their sentences.
The scheme will be mainly targeted at offenders who serve six months or less in jail, but will apply in theory to all prisoners who are paroled.
Prison rules mean that almost all offenders are allowed out of jail early for good behaviour ‘on licence’, meaning that if they are caught re-offending before the end of the term they go straight back to jail for the remainder of their term.
Ministers are alarmed at the high numbers of people who re-offend after getting out of jail, with more than 70% committing crimes within four years of being released.
As part of the rehabilitation programme, some offenders will be tagged, such as house-breakers who might be put on a curfew to keep them indoors at particular times.
The proposals also require all prisoners released before the end of their terms to be assessed by experts who will order them on to rehabilitation programmes, including courses in money management, dealing with alcohol or drugs, training for work, and the impact of their offending on the victims.
It represents a massive increase in the use of tagging, which has so far been little-used by sheriffs. Only about 200 people a year are currently tagged. Electronic tags are worn on the wrist or ankle and monitored from a single base in East Kilbride.
The technology can pinpoint the wearer’s location to within a few metres. Ministers are confident the system can cope with a substantial increase in usage.
Cathy Jamieson, the justice minister, said: "In some instances, [tagging] might be the right thing to do if there is a significant concern about that person’s movements. It could be part of a package of intensive support and supervision.
"It would give local communities much more confidence and might also give the judiciary more confidence if they felt there’s a closer monitoring of people when they come back into the community."
Tagging an offender costs 16,000 a year - about half the cost of prison. Most of the offenders to be tagged would be kept under surveillance for two months, at a cost of 2,700 each. If the scheme were to be applied to all the offenders jailed for six months or less each year, it would cost the public purse 43m.
But the plans have drawn criticism. Annabel Goldie, the Scottish Tory justice spokeswoman, said: "The simplest and most effective measure that they should be talking about is to end the automatic early release which lets every Scottish prisoner out scot-free and before the end of their sentence.
"If [prisoners] served their sentences in full then they would have the time for these rehabilitation programmes, and it would keep our streets safer."
Doug Keil, the general secretary of the Scottish Police Federation, said: "We support these schemes, we think they are a good idea. The only concern is resourcing. Checking these tagging orders requires considerable police time."
Susan Matheson, chief executive of the charity SACRO, which works on rehabilitation and restorative justice, said: "We imprison far too many people in Scotland - rehabilitation is the best answer to dealing with their behaviour."
Ministers have already unveiled plans for the tagging of dangerous criminals, young tearaways and reluctant witnesses. The latest proposals emerged as the minister announced plans to launch a consultation process on plans for a massive shake-up of prisons and criminal justice social work.