Although often used for public protection and as a punishment alternative to prison, electronic monitoring also has a powerful role to play in supporting positive life changes for service users. That was one of the key issues that probation practitioners were keen to learn more about in a day-long Probation Institute workshop on electronic monitoring this month.
The event, held at Conway Hall in London, attracted leaders from across the criminal justice sector, including Community Rehabilitation Companies, the National Probation Service, academics and justice consultants.
Speakers included practitioners with front-line experience of electronic monitoring from probation, rehabilitation and police as well as professors of criminal justice leading EM research.
Neil Moloney, Chief Executive of BeNCH Community Rehabilitation Compan said afterwards: “I welcomed the presentations today which showed how targeted use of electronic monitoring can support desistance and when used in conjunction with other interventions can help our service users to move away from crime.”
Rich Gansheimer, Chief Executive of MTCNovo which provides rehabilitation services across London and Thames Valley, commented: “The Probation Institute is playing an important role in raising questions and opening up discussions about rehabilitation practice. The workshop today has kicked off the thinking about how we use electronic monitoring for rehabilitation rather than just enforcement. We are at the assessment stage at the moment. If we can use electronic monitoring to reduce the number of breaches, then we are going in the right direction in the drive to reduce reoffending.”
Some of the main learning points to come out of the conference were as follows:
Electronic monitoring has potential for rehabilitation as well as control and punishment
If electronic monitoring is to be used for rehabilitation then it needs to be seen as more than ‘standard curfew tagging’ and be tailored, as the technology now allows, to the individual needs of each service user. This needs to include flexibility to accommodate modern 24/7 life and a greater variety of cultural and family circumstances.
Defining the purpose of electronic monitoring in each situation must be the starting point for its better use.
If electronic monitoring is to be effective in rehabilitation, then service users themselves as well as CRCs and the NPS need to be engaged in the design of the technology and how it is implemented
For electronic monitoring to be used to achieve better outcomes, then there needs to be properly planned evaluation and research. While there is some evidence about the effectiveness of EM in particular circumstances – mostly on curfew and mostly from abroad – work on its use as a tool to support rehabilitation is very limited. Most existing information is based on case studies where the use of EM has proven to be effective. These results are interesting but are not a good basis for drawing broader conclusions since ineffective applications of EM rarely, if ever, feature as case studies.
Anthea Hucklesby, Professor of Criminal Justice at University of Leeds, highlighted a number of examples of where electronic monitoring was supporting rehabilitation. She pointed out it was more likely to be effective with people who already wanted to change their behaviour.
Some case studies had found that wearing an electronic tag forced individuals with chaotic lives into a steadier daily routine, which they then reported as being helpful.
If a person was trying to desist from crime and didn’t want to get into situations potentially ‘risky’ for them, such as going to pubs and clubs, then having a tag gave them a legitimate reason to tell their ‘mates’ as to why they couldn’t go out, without losing face. The person’s ‘mates’ were also quick to agree because they didn’t necessarily like the idea of their location being known because one of their group was wearing a tag.
With electronic monitoring helping to reduce alcohol intake during the curfew period for some individuals, it then had a positive knock-on advantage of improving attendance rates at probation appointments and programmes the following day.
In a domestic abuse setting, there was useful insights from DI Craig Flint of Hertfordshire Police, in charge of the Hertfordshire EM Pilot and DS Jeff Hodgkinson from Wales Police. They found that GPS tracking was proving helpful in the obvious way of identifying when perpetrators were entering exclusion zones. But they also found it could help with positive desistance. Where both the perpetrator and former victim of abuse wore GPS devices, the perpetrator was sent a text if they went into a public area where the victim was present. This gave both parties greater freedom of movement in the community, without the risk of encountering each other. This was reassuring for victims and helped perpetrators to learn to adopt pro-social behaviour in a more normal setting.
David Hearn, Darzi Fellow, Oxleas NHS Trust gave a powerful example of how electronic monitoring was being welcomed by both patients and staff in a mental health setting. By tagging patients, the hospital was able to dramatically reduce the number of absconds and take the number of serious incidents to zero. People who left authorised areas could be quickly picked up. The patients directly benefitted because it allowed them safely to go out of the hospital more often on authorised ‘leave’. The patients enjoyed this greater freedom, within the confines of a safety net, it motivated them to engage more with learning programmes in order to have more ‘leave’ opportunities and it gave them a chance to learn how to integrate into communities in a safe and controlled way.
David Raho, probation officer with London CRC and the NAPO lead on EM gave an update on the Mayor of London’s initiated pilot on using EM to monitor compliance with alchohol requirements. A full evaluation report is due to be published shortly.
Chris Brace, Chief Executive of the Magistrates Association was supportive of the idea of tagging being used for rehabilitation but pointed out that the implications in its use by magistrates would need to be carefully considered. Currently tagging was a convenient way for magistrates to add the required punishment element to a sentence and by promoting electronic monitoring as rehabilitative then this could cause confusion. Very clear guidance would be needed on when and EM is punishment and when it is rehabilitative.
Mike Nellis, Emeritus Professor of Criminal and Community Justice, University of Strathclyde gave an overview of his work on the ethics of electronic monitoring and invited delegates to consider a range of ethical issues. Professor Paul Senior, Chair of the Probation Institute, summed up some of the key points raised in the day.
Speakers at the event
- Anthea Hucklesby, Professor of Criminal Justice, University of Leeds
- Mike Nellis, Emeritus Professor of Criminal and Community Justice, University of Strathclyde
- David Hearn, Darzi Fellow, Oxleas NHS Trust
- David Raho, NAPO lead on EM
- Chris Brace, Chief Executive, Magistrates association
- DI Craig Flint, Hertfordshire Police – the Hertfordshire EM Pilot
- DS Jeff Hodgkinson, Operational Lead, Integrated Offender Management & Mental Health, Wales – The Future use of EM in Wales
- Professor Paul Senior, Chair of the Probation Institute
- Savas Hadjipavlou, Chief Executive of the Probation Institute