Justice on the cheap leaves victims as collateral damage
THE suffering of toddler Madison Horn in the final moments of her short life is almost beyond imagination.
In an orgy of violence, career criminal Kevin Park battered the two-year-old to death, inflicting 65 separate injuries.
Madison was allowed to stay in his care despite his 38 previous convictions for a host of offences including domestic abuse.
A Significant Case Review last year found that the little girl’s death ‘could not have been anticipated’ — but it admitted ‘certain aspects of this case could have been managed more effectively’.
Even by the standards of such official documents, this was something of an understatement.
Five months before Madison’s murder on April 20, 2014, Park was given a ‘restriction of liberty’ electronic tagging order that imposed a curfew on him, which meant he was barred from leaving his girlfriend’s house overnight.
This enabled the serial thug to babysit for Madison while her mother Anne Marie White went out to a party.
Park, who had breached his tagging order twice, was jailed for at least 22 years in 2014 for the savage murder.
Yet last week, Justice Secretary Michael Matheson launched a consultation on an expansion of tagging, known as ‘electronic monitoring’, and the introduction of GPS (Global Positioning System) to track criminals.
He was at pains to stress this was aimed at promoting public safety — a claim that Madison’s relatives might treat with some scepticism.
Mr Matheson also enthused about Scandinavian justice, exhibiting his party’s well-known fetish for any policy emanating from that part of the world.
A senior official with G4S, the company which runs electronic tagging, told me on a visit to the firm’s base on an industrial estate in Uddingston, Lanarkshire last week that in Scandinavian nations, ‘they are almost replacing prison’.
Instead prisoners are sentenced to hard labour in front of their TVs, presumably watching some of the ‘Scandi-noir’ crime fiction of which Nicola Sturgeon is such a fan. This sounds suspiciously like justice by box-set.
The criminals’ movements are regulated by tags and they are supposedly closely monitored by caseworkers.
This approach challenges the notion that incarceration should have a punitive element — indeed it is slowly abolishing the very idea of incarceration (and punishment).
It is easy to see why the SNP, for so long besotted with soft touch justice, is passionate about the virtual prisons of Norway.
But one wonders what the family of John Hatfield might make of Mr Matheson’s claim that none of this is driven by the need to save money, but is instead aimed at boosting public safety.
Mr Hatfield was murdered by teenager Callum Evans and his accomplice Peter Clark, who left their victim with 34 wounds after a frenzied attack in Cardonald, Glasgow, where Evans lived.
Evans, who was 18 when he was jailed and had been convicted of assault and robbery, was able to murder Mr Hatfield, 23, despite being electronically tagged.
In 2006, the High Court in Glasgow heard Evans, who was on a curfew from 7pm to 7am, was able to kill without triggering an alarm because a worker employed by security firm Reliance — G4S’s predecessor — had wrongly set the tagging device the teenager wore on his ankle.
We are assured that technology has developed apace and there are now plans for GPS tracking of sex offenders and domestic abusers.
This allows the authorities to find out the location of a tagged criminal if there are suspicions they have breached their order, not currently possible with traditional ‘radio frequency’ tagging.
There are clear applications for the technology to police Community Payback Orders (CPO) and prisoners on home leave, who have a nasty habit of disappearing.
I was once told by a prisons official that reoffending while on home leave was effectively ‘collateral damage’.
It was relatively uncommon and therefore a price worth paying for the rehabilitative potential of trusting prisoners not to go on the run.
As repulsive as this philosophy is, tagging prisoners when they are let out temporarily undoubtedly makes sense.
But anyone whose ‘sat nav’ has cut out when they drive into a tunnel knows the technology can’t always be trusted.
Indeed, early trials of GPS tracking stalled when it emerged that cloud cover could distort the satellite signal.
The chequered track record of public sector IT projects hardly inspires much confidence in the claim that these glitches have been ironed out.
But isn’t the wider question: why are we letting out criminals in the first place if they pose such a risk to the public that they must be tagged?
A change to regulations quietly waved through last year means prisoners who have previously reoffended while out on licence are now eligible for Home Detention Curfews (HDCs).
HDCs allow prisoners to be freed early to serve their sentences at home, wearing a tag.
The breach rate for so-called ‘armchair custody’ is about 17 per cent.
It is hardly surprising that in 2010 Sheriff Robert McCreadie said he no longer knew how long criminals would serve behind bars because of early release.
He rightly warned that sheriffs and judges had been ‘stripped of the authority’ to decide jail terms — HDCs are decided by prison governors.
Whatever Mr Matheson says, public safety is now subordinate to the overriding aim of emptying prisons to cut costs.
Scottish Police Authority (SPA) chairman Andrew Flanagan has admitted, with refreshing candour, that tagging more criminals ‘clearly’ risks public safety — but has to be carried out because of limited jail space.
Meanwhile, in another development last week, Chief Constable Phil Gormley revealed plans to slash officer numbers by 400.
We are told these manpower cuts will somehow simultaneously bolster the number of officers on the beat — truly a loaves and fishes-style miracle.
In an interview yesterday, Mr Gormley said: ‘We will be a more effective force than we are now.
‘Those 16,900 officers properly equipped, enabled by technology, supported by police staff who know what they are doing, will be a more effective, visible, available resource than 17,234 without the right equipment and support.’
Then there are other plans for criminals to be sentenced without even having to turn up to court — in future, it may well be done, at least in summary cases (where a sheriff sits without a jury), by email.
After all, the rather tiresome business of ensuring someone is held publicly accountable for breaking the law is very old-fashioned — not to say costly.
Tagging, officer cuts, digital courts: all of this will keep the public safe, cost-effectively.
But Mr Gormley, Mr Matheson and court bosses are insulting the intelligence of the public by expecting us to buy this nonsense.
Their cost-cutting plans are nothing more than justice on the cheap — and the suffering of victims is merely collateral damage.