Now men­tally ill of­fend­ers could be tagged and set free

The Scottish Mail on Sunday - - News - By Gareth Rose SCOT­TISH PO­LIT­I­CAL ED­I­TOR

MEN­TALLY ill crim­i­nals could be fit­ted with elec­tronic tags and re­leased into the com­mu­nity un­der plans to trans­form the jus­tice sys­tem.

In a move that has sparked fears over pub­lic safety, pro­pos­als are be­ing drawn up to trial ‘elec­tronic mon­i­tor­ing’ for ‘men­tally dis­or­dered of­fend­ers’.

At present, crim­i­nals whose of­fend­ing is judged to be the re­sult of men­tal ill­ness are not jailed, but in­stead are de­tained for treat­ment in se­cure psy­chi­atric hos­pi­tals.

How­ever, pro­pos­als revealed in of­fi­cial doc­u­ments from a meet­ing at the State Hos­pi­tal at Carstairs raise the prospect of of­fend­ers be­ing freed with a tag.

Last night crit­ics warned that the scheme could be an at­tempt to cut costs, which could put mem­bers of the pub­lic in dan­ger. One con­sul­tant who has worked in some of the UK’s most se­cure hos­pi­tals said the move could prove ‘cat­a­strophic’.

He added: ‘This is one of the ini­tia­tives that has clearly em­anated from a Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment wish­list be­cause it might have been tried else­where, but it makes lit­tle sense. I can only think they’ve looked at the ef­fects and sav­ings of hav­ing pris­on­ers on a tag at home. In those cases, if the pris­oner is not where he should be, the tag makes sure he is caught and re­turned to pri­son, with the con­se­quences rarely be­ing se­vere.

‘When you are deal­ing with men­tal health, how can elec­tronic mon­i­tor­ing help you pre­dict that a pa­tient is go­ing to be­come un­well, that the de­pres­sive ill­ness or psy­chosis that af­fects them is about to take con­trol? In cases like that, the ef­fect could be cat­a­strophic. It is not a good idea.’ An­nie Wells, Scot­tish Con­ser­va­tive men­tal health spokesman, said: ‘There is def­i­nitely a place for the tag­ging of cer­tain pa­tients who are in the State Hos­pi­tal, es­pe­cially when it comes to re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion and rein­te­gra­tion.

‘But pub­lic safety has to be the num­ber one con­cern here. The mo­ti­va­tion for do­ing this must be cor­rect and not sim­ply a cost­cut­ting ex­er­cise by the SNP.’

The pro­pos­als, which will fuel con­cerns about the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment’s soft-touch jus­tice sys­tem, were revealed in papers from a State Hos­pi­tals Board of Scot­land meet­ing last month.

The agenda papers said: ‘The Foren­sic Net­work were re­quested by the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment to set up a work­ing group to ex­plore views and pos­si­bil­i­ties for use of elec­tronic mon­i­tor­ing with men­tally dis­or­dered of­fend­ers.

‘The group is cross-dis­ci­plinary with rep­re­sen­ta­tion from po­lice, crim­i­nal jus­tice, so­cial work... and pris­ons. The work of the group is on­go­ing and a re­port is expected to be sub­mit­ted to the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment by Novem­ber 2017.’ The Scot­tish Mail on Sun­day un­der­stands that re­port is set to be de­liv­ered next month.

How­ever, the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment in­sisted Carstairs pa­tients would not be el­i­gi­ble; in­stead, the fo­cus of any trial of elec­tronic mon­i­tor­ing would be pa­tients in the other se­cure psy­chi­atric units.

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