Kenny MacAskill:GPS next step in tagging offenders

Kenny MacAskill. Picture: Julie Bull
Kenny MacAskill. Picture: Julie Bull
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ELECTRONIC monitoring is a method of dealing with offenders that is available to courts and prisons in Scotland to allow a sentence or part of a sentence to be served in the community.

A number of organisations already do great work monitoring and rehabilitating offenders. However, with the advances in the available technology I wanted to see if there is more we could do to further improve monitoring and provide greater public reassurance.

This is why we are consulting on the development of the country’s electronic monitoring service by introducing GPS or satellite tracking.

Types of offender who would be monitored could include sex offenders released from prison, persistent offenders and those involved in domestic abuse cases.

In Scotland we already use radio frequency electronic monitoring to monitor such offenders when they are restricted to their homes. However, we now have the technological capability to use satellite tracking to monitor movements.

Electronic monitoring was first piloted in Scotland in 1998, before being rolled-out in 2002.

This April marked the start of a new electronic monitoring contract, which included the capability for GPS satellite tracking to be used for the first time in Scotland.

GPS is currently used in a number of other jurisdictions, including the United States and Spain – and its use in domestic abuse cases is currently being trialled in France.

Satellite tracking can enable authorities to pinpoint an offender’s exact location in real time which has the potential to greatly assist how they are monitored. It also allows them to set up specific exclusion zones preventing offenders from entering potential risk areas like high streets, schools and playgrounds.

We believe that simply knowing you could be easily placed at the scene of an offence will help prevent future offending.

Some of the options consulted upon could also free up police time by eliminating potential suspects from their inquiries. Critically, a GPS service could provide more information about offender’s daily movements flagging up risky behaviour at the earliest opportunity.

GPS “tags” are similar in appearance to the existing radio frequency tags and are waterproof and tamperproof. The ankle tag receives transmissions from satellites which locate the offender. The mobile phone network is then used to communicate that information to a central computer at a monitoring centre in “real time”.

The central control then uses Google maps to plot locations, allowing the movements of the tag to be plotted against locations and times. Satellites can also monitor the perimeters of exclusion or inclusion zones.

It is important to stress that this new technology is not an alternative for offenders who would normally be sent to jail. What it has the potential to do is improve the monitoring of those who have already been given community sentences or are out on licence.

We are keen to consult widely on this issue of electronic monitoring and urge any individual or group with an interest in this issue to get involved.

If the consultation favours the introduction of satellite tracking, we will begin discussions with stakeholders involved in offender management to determine how a scheme could best operate.

There are existing legislative powers in place which would allow for the use of GPS in Scotland. However, depending on the consultation, additional legislation may be required if a new use is proposed – for example to extend monitoring explicitly to those subject to Sexual Offence Prevention Orders.

While satellite tracking alone cannot and will not provide a magic solution to the complex issues faced by those dealing with offenders, it does have the potential – as part of a thorough, multi-agency, risk management plan – to improve how they are monitored and managed, for the benefit of the public. «

Kenny MacAskill MSP is Cabinet Secretary for Justice.

Twitter: @KennyMacAskill