‘Don’t jail young offenders, tag them’ says expert

YOUNG criminals should be tagged as an alternative to prison sentences of six months or less, an influential academic has said.
An electronic tag being fitted. Picture: PAAn electronic tag being fitted. Picture: PA
An electronic tag being fitted. Picture: PA

Professor Mike Nellis, who advised penal reform group Howard League Scotland on its response to a government consultation on electronic monitoring, believes the move would help reduce reoffending.

Similar initiatives in Scandinavia have proven effective at giving young people a second chance and cutting the prison population.

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The Scottish Government has been consulting as its new contract with G4S includes the capacity for satellite tracking, making the system more effective.

Nellis said: “There are areas of the world using standalone electronic monitoring as a way of reducing, or stabilising, the prison population. The Swedes, Danish and Norwegians have all done so.

“What they will all say is that they have stabilised the prison population and stopped it rising.

“And if you take Denmark, they may well say that they have reduced the prison population for under-25s.”

Denmark has a presumption against jailing under-25s for less than six months, a model which Nellis would like to see adopted in Scotland. He said: “We should think about using monitoring in the context of supervision, as an alternative to short sentences, like Scandinavian countries do.”

The Scottish Government tried to introduce a presumption against sentences of less than six months during the last parliament, but had to compromise on one against less than three, following opposition from Scottish Labour and Conservatives.

It has said it has no intention of introducing a new presumption against short sentences, with tagging as an alternative.

However, Nellis held seminars last year on the Scandinavian models at Strathclyde University, which were backed by the government.

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“I think Scotland should at least have a debate about how we relate electronic monitoring to a reduction in short sentences, given that we say we want to reduce short sentences,” he added.

One piece of research from Sweden suggests there would be some benefits. The research compared medium risk offenders who received intensive supervision and electronic monitoring with a similar risk group who did not. The monitored group had a reconviction rate of 27 per cent over three years, compared to 42 per cent for the others.

While tagging does not rehabilitate offenders it stops them committing crimes long enough to get help for problems such as drugs,
alcohol, homelessness and unemployment.