Prison officers “under pressure” on electronic tags


by Ben Borland

PRISON officers are “under pressure” from bosses to release criminals on electronic tags in order to free up space in Scotland’s overcrowded jails.

A new report has revealed that staff believe a secret “target” figure exists for each prison, despite denials from ministers and Scottish Prison Service (SPS).

There are concerns that the use of targets and putting pressure on prison officers could result in criminals – many of them violent offenders – being freed without the proper safeguards.

It was reported last week that one in five criminals released on an electronic tag since the system was introduced in 2006 was being recalled to jail.

But the research also contained evidence of major problems in the Home Detention Curfew (HDC) system.

Conservative justice spokesman John Lamont said yesterday: “We have continually warned that HDC should not be used as a means of emptying our jails.

“Where is the incentive for a prisoner to rehabilitate if they know that, regardless of their behaviour inside, they are likely to get a tagging order anyway?

“It is unacceptable for this soft-touch SNP Government to oversee a justice system where HDC is a convenient way of keeping the prison population low.

“Tagging should be a reward for well-behaved prisoners as the next step in their rehabilitation and nothing less will do.”

Issues highlighted in the report include:

  • Prisoners being released on an electronic tag against the wishes of social workers and families;   
  • Prisoners being too drunk to have their tags fitted;
  • More than 50 assaults and threats on prison service contractors who fit and monitor the tags;

The report, compiled by independent experts from four universities, found that more prisoners are granted HDC from overcrowded jails. It adds: “SPS staff all stated they are under pressure from SPS headquarters to maximise HDC releases.

“No one claimed there is pressure to bend the rules to increase numbers, but there is a sense that there are targets, and establishments are accountable for these.

“Additionally, prisoners and families can add to this pressure. One respondent said, ‘You are obviously under pressure to sign these things off or not sign them off and you take the flak from the prisoners, you take the flak from
the family and you take the flak from the lawyers.’”

An SPS spokesman there are usually only around 350 prisoners on release with a tag, from a population of around 8,000.

He denied officers are under pressure to release criminals, adding: “All of us have to be concerned about public safety, and all prisoners are risk assessed before they go out.

“We do put pressure on people, but only to ensure things are done properly.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said decisions on releasing prisoners on HDC are “entirely a matter for SPS”.

He added: “Statistics show that the vast majority of those released on HDC comply with the conditions placed upon them.

“Anyone who does step out of line is swiftly returned to prison.”


Courtesy of the Scottish Sunday Express