An insight into life with a tag

In the fourth and final blog from our electronic tagging volunteers, Neil Hunter, Principal Reporter/Chief Executive of the Scottish Children’s Reporter Administration (SCRA) struggles to stick to his curfew during a ‘humbling and insightful’ week.

I happily agreed to participate in the week long experience of wearing a tag. Firstly because I wanted to know more about the process of how a tag is fitted and how the technology works; secondly, I was curious as to what the implications of movement restrictions would actually feel like to me.

The fitting of the tag happened on a Sunday. The staff member from G4S (Jane*) was reassuringly helpful and explained things very clearly about how the tag works, about practical things such as taking a shower (they are waterproof), how to contact then for assistance (the hub comes with a phone and direct line to G4S staff) and about the parameters of the technology (it works based on the periphery of your accommodation – you have to walk round the perimeter of your living area so it can calibrate). I wasn’t sure what to expect but the set up was all very simple. That was the easy bit.

Day 1 was Monday. I slept well; after a few hours, surprisingly, I had almost forgotten I had the tag on. It was comfortable and not really obtrusive at all – unless you intended to wear DM boots, which I didn’t so that was OK! Went to work and showed a few folk the tag and explained what I/we were doing. Some were intrigued, others laughed, and some seemed quite impressed.

It was only around lunchtime that I realised my first dilemma. I visit my mother every Monday, but hadn’t told her I wouldn’t be there! I decided that planning ahead was one of the key things that someone on a movement restriction would need to do, particularly if there are regular things that take you out of the house in the restricted hours (my agreed curfew was 7pm). Clearly I hadn’t done that and couldn’t let my mum down, so miserably on the first day I had broken my curfew! If I had been properly on a MRC I couldn’t and wouldn’t have done that. It was a really important lesson learned for me.

Day 2 went OK. I sometimes have to work late to catch up on e-mails, so had to make sure I didn’t just go on auto–pilot and sit at a desk. It was actually quite important to use this time to reflect on what needs to be organised e.g where you need to be, when you need to leave. On this day, I was in Stirling where I am based, but I live in Glasgow. That meant thinking ahead about the train timings – otherwise day 2 would have seen the curfew broken again. Fortunately for me I was able to catch the 5.30pm train and be back in the house for just a few minutes before curfew – phew.

Day 3 didn’t go so well. I was in Edinburgh for a day of meetings and discussions which went on until the back of 5pm. I thought everything would be ok with plenty of time to get home for curfew, until – oh oh! – 5.30pm train cancelled which meant not enough time to get home. Crikey – three days and I’ve breached my curfew twice, once through not planning ahead and once through circumstance … or maybe I should have left myself more time! Had I been on a MRC proper I’d need to take all eventualities into consideration in my planning…cancelled trains and all.

Day 4 and 5 go ok as I’m working in Glasgow, so near home. By Day 6 I’m facing a fresh obstacle. A friend phones about tickets for the football “do you wanna come?” I’ve broken my curfew twice already, what’s the harm I think? (my friend didn’t know I was on a tag this week. Maybe that’s an important point for people on MRCs – let some folk know so they can help you adjust. I can see the dilemma in doing that, but now I’m in a dilemma anyway!). I say no but then I feel bad, because he will lose the money he spent. So then I say yes and I feel bad because I’m showing a lack of commitment and discipline to this project. Nevertheless, I go to the football and remind myself to be more ready for these little diversions people can put in your way, and have a strategy ready for them.

All in all a really interesting and worthwhile week – an experience that was both humbling and insightful. Humbling, because I wasn’t far enough ahead with my planning to adjust properly and hadn’t foreseen some of the difficulties that might arise. Insightful, because I got to witness first-hand the planning and adjustments that being on a tag means for your life.

Would I do it again? Yes – but this time I’d be more prepared and learn from this experience. Do I still think tagging is something that can be positive and powerful for young people? Again, yes, but with the right support and a degree of advice and some flexibility to help them adjust to the restrictions.

Neil and his fellow volunteers were tagged to increase awareness and understanding of Movement Restriction Conditions (MRCs), and to highlight any capacity for improvement. Read CYCJ’s paper on MRCs and Youth Justice in Scotland. 

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