Paolo Mazzoncini, Chief Social Work Officer for East Dunbartonshire Council, was one of four youth justice professionals who volunteered to wear an electronic tag for a week, and share the experience for CYCJ. Here he shares his tagging journey and the surprises, revelations and restrictions he encountered along the way.
A representative from G4S arrived at my home to install the monitoring equipment, to put the tag on my ankle and to test the system was operating properly. I knew a bit about what was involved because I’d been emailed beforehand but also because I had previously been a criminal justice social worker and I had seen the system in operation.
The representative, Jane*, arrived at the agreed time, carrying a big black box. This contained the tag and the monitoring telephone system. She told me a bit about the system – the way it operated; how it monitored compliance; and what would happen if I messed about with the tag or failed to adhere to conditions – and then she asked me a number of questions, including:
- could she measure my ankle for the tag,
- which ankle did I want the tag to go on,
- where did I want to situate the monitoring box in the home, and
- was there anyone else in the home that needed to be advised of its use.
I was then asked to walk round the house to make sure that the signal was being picked up. This all went well. The unusual part was when I was asked to run a bath as Jane needed to immerse my (now tagged) ankle in water to see if it still worked. Obviously I then realised people do take baths with these on – something I hadn’t thought of before.
Once the tag was on and Jane had contacted the office to let them know, I was called by one of the staff to explain what this meant: my curfew arrangements (7pm-7am), what would happen next etc. It all seemed fine. Jane left and my tagging journey then began. After a couple of hours I forgot I had it on and never really noticed it again, till it was time for bed.
Monday 10/10/16 (left 7.59am arrived back 6.15 pm)
Woke up and noticed I had the tag on. It hadn’t affected my sleep. I had planned to go to the gym (I try to go to the 6.30am class) but decided not to for two reasons. Firstly, I would be breaching the curfew and secondly I wondered what people would make of it, if they saw it or saw it under my sock. Decided it would be best to avoid having to explain this to others.
I went to work today with tag on and didn’t tell anyone about it. No one noticed it either. That said, it would be hard to see it under suit trousers. It’s not noticeable at all really. Came home on time and didn’t breach curfew.
Tuesday 11/10/16 (left 7.54am arrived back 6.20 pm)
Ironically, a couple of colleagues and I were having a discussion about ‘loss of liberty’ today. It related to the use of custody for adult offenders and its impact on family life. I decided to show them the tag. They were surprised and asked me for an explanation. They then understood why I was doing this and said it had not been visible to them at all. I made it home in time for the curfew.
Wednesday 12/10/16 (left 8.20 am arrived back 5.22 pm)
I was outwith the office today at a training event with representatives from Police Scotland, the Risk Management Authority and other local authority social work staff. The training went well and no-one noticed that I was wearing a tag. My feelings at this point were that the tag doesn’t really interfere with the work I do, nor does it hinder me from carrying out my normal interaction with people. The only times I am aware of the tag is when I have a bath or when I accidentally bump my ankles! Again was able to keep to my curfew.
Thursday 13/10/16 (left 8.04 am arrived 7.20pm)
Normal working day with no-one noticing the tag. I attended East Dunbartonshire’s Social Work Committee and advised our Convenor before the meeting began that I was wearing a tag. He made some other elected members aware before the meeting began and this gave me a chance to explain what I was doing and why.
The Committee starts at 5.30pm and the end times vary depending on the number and nature of the items raised. I was unfortunately not able to keep to my curfew on this occasion as I returned home after 7pm.
Friday 14/10/16 (left 8.07 – no return time as tag taken off)
This was the last day I wore the tag. I had made arrangements with Jane that I would disconnect the box and bring that with me to my place of work, and that she would meet me later in the morning. Jane subsequently arrived around 11.30am, cut the tag off and took the monitoring equipment away. It felt a bit strange. In one respect, I actually thought my leg felt lighter without the tag! On another level, I felt as if I had completed something well; as if I had achieved something.
The experience of wearing the tag was easy for me to do. It didn’t affect my home life or my work. I have a supportive partner and my work is flexible enough on most occasions that I can manage the commitments therein. That said, the tag did stop me from going to the gym and doing recreational group activities because I really didn’t want to explain to others why I was wearing a tag. I imagine this could be an issue for young people.
I did strive to keep to my curfew and managed it with the exception of one day. It felt good to know that I was achieving my responsibilities.
Generally speaking, I can say that there were large parts of my day when I didn’t even remember that I had a tag on. This is good in one sense (i.e. it was non-obtrusive) but in another it could easily lead some to forget that they are on a curfew.
This was a useful experiment to take part in, and I do feel more informed about what it’s like to undergo a tagging order, and the impact this can have on your life. I was only tagged for one week; longer than this would definitely have been challenging!
Paolo and his fellow volunteers were tagged to increase awareness and understanding of Movement Restriction Conditions (MRCc), and to highlight any capacity for improvement. More reflections will be shared in due course. Read CYCJ’s paper on MRCs and Youth Justice in Scotland.