New! Advanced Higher Modern Studies essay prize launched

AHMS poster

Modern Studies essay prize: what do you think should be Justice priorities in Scotland?

The SJM team is proud to announce the launch of an exciting essay prize competition open to Advanced Higher Modern Studies students.

We are looking for the best response to the following challenge:

“There will be a new Scottish Parliamentary session beginning after the election in May 2016. Write an email or letter to the new Cabinet Secretary for Justice in which you give advice on what his/her priorities should be over the next four-year term.”

The winner will be awarded £50 and have their submission published in the June 2016 issue of the SJM: the 2nd prize winner will win £25 and have their submission appear as a blog post on the SJM website.

A few rules

  1. Your entry must be no longer than 750 words including the title.
  2. You must be in 6th year taking Advanced Higher Modern Studies at school or college in Scotland and be under 19 years of age at the date of submission.
  3. You must fill in and then add your entry to the front sheet document here: Competition 2016 entry front sheet
  4. Send your entry to
  5. The deadline for entry is Friday 22nd April. Submissions received after that date will not be considered.

Best of luck!

Mary Munro

Managing editor
Contact for any queries:

Posted in Uncategorized

Needs, not deeds: the failure of Scotland’s Youth Justice System

Fiona DyerFiona Dyer is practice development manager of the Youth Justice National Development Team within the Centre for Youth and Criminal Justice.

The justice system in Scotland is a very confusing landscape where young people are concerned. When I first qualified as a social worker nearly 20 years ago, I had no idea just how contradictory the system in Scotland was. I was full of ideals and believed that our Children’s Hearing System Scotland (CHS) was superior to elsewhere in the UK because our system prioritised the needs of young people. This was a system that recognised that young people hadn’t fully developed, and therefore should not be expected to take full responsibility for their actions. It supported the view that many young people who were involved in offending had, or previously had, care needs and therefore had suffered in their young lives. Ultimately they needed help to change behaviour, rather than punishment. In reality, however, this ‘ideal’ picture is not quite accurate.

For some young people the Children’s Hearing System does work and their needs, not deeds, are the priority, but for others unfortunately this is not the case. Today, many young people under 18 are prosecuted as adults, in adult courts. This includes children as young as 12 and 13 years old. Why are we letting this happen?

Accepting that young people can be prosecuted and have an adult conviction not only contradicts the purpose of having a welfare based system to meet their needs, but also goes against the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Our legal system and legislation is partly at fault, in the first instance, for allowing young people under age 18 to even enter an adult court. Accepting that young people can be prosecuted and have an adult conviction not only contradicts the purpose of having a welfare based system to meet their needs, but also goes against the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), which Scotland has agreed to endorse. The UNCRC stipulates no child under 18 should be prosecuted in adult courts[1] – but little has changed as a result. In fact, we actively promote children being prosecuted through the Lord Advocate’s Guidance, the ‘Joint Agreement in Relation to the Cases of Children Jointly Reported to the Procurator Fiscal and the Children’s Reporter’ (COPFS/SCRA, 2014, p.7)[2] which includes the presumption to prosecute anyone age 16 or 17 years, as opposed to addressing their behaviour in the system designed to help and support them and take their age and stage of development into account.

If sent to court, legislation in Scotland allows another route out and into the Children’s Hearing System (just in case these young people should not have been there in the first place). Section 49(3) of the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995 gives the Sheriff the option of advice and disposal at the Children’s Hearing System. And just in case sheriffs forget that this option is open to them, the social workers have a duty to highlight this to them regarding all young people under age 17 and a half, through guidance for criminal justice social work reports[3]. Over a five year period from 2009 – 2014, on average only 5 % of young people were remitted from Court to the Children’s Hearing System.   Why are such high numbers of young people remaining in adult courts?

Different Government policies have also been introduced over recent years, based on research such as the Edinburgh Study of Youth, Transitions and Crime[4], which keeps children at the centre (Getting it Right For Every Child) and seeks to divert young people from formal process wherever possible (The Whole System Approach). But this is obviously not enough, as many young people are still being prosecuted in adult courts. Some may argue that until we have a suitable alternative to address serious offending then this is the only option available – which if true, means we need to act to rectify this and create a suitable alternative. But given that 93% of young people age 12-18 who were prosecuted in adult courts in Scotland between 2009-2014 were there on summary proceedings (ie, not the most serious offences), where is the argument ? Could these children not be dealt with by the Children’s Hearing System? In some instances, other young people are actually having their Compulsory Supervision Orders (CSOs) terminated at the Children’s Hearing, to allow them to have ‘their day in court’. Where is the child in that decision?

To address these issues, the Centre for Youth and Criminal Justice (CYCJ) recently published a paper, Young People at Court[5], which made the following recommendations:

  • All young people under age 18 must be legally defined as children and not adults and treated as such. Amendments to Children (Scotland) Act 1995, Criminal Procedures (Scotland) Act 1995 and Children’s Hearing (Scotland) Act 2011 would be required.
  • All young people under age 18 who offend and cannot be diverted to non-formal measures such as EEI (Early Effective Intervention), should be reported to the Children’s Reporter.
  • Only in the most serious cases/harm caused should a young person be reported to the Procurator Fiscal.
  • Until a legislative change is made, there is a change in policy that the presumption is for ALL those under 18 are to be dealt with in the CHS, or diverted from prosecution.
  • The CHS increases its age limit to allow children to remain on a CSO until their 18th year. This would allow time for work to be undertaken with them to address their needs/risks/behaviour.
  • The CHS has more disposals available to them, or more conditions are attached to CSO to meet the needs of the young people referred.
  • Only on those occasions, where it is in the public interest/the most serious of cases, should the decision be made to prosecute.
  • No young person under age 18 should appear in an adult court. Youth hearings, based on a child-centred ethos, should be created for the most serious offences.

Will these recommendations be taken on board and the appropriate changes made? How can we support change to happen? Endorsed by the National Youth Justice Advisory Group, the Young People in Court paper has started discussions. How can we make change happen?

We would love to hear your views at

The full Young People at Court paper can be found at

[1] United Nations (1989) United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. New York, United States.

[2] Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service/SCAR (2014) Joint Agreement in Relation to Cases of Children Jointly Reported to the Procurator Fiscal and Children’s reporter. Edinburgh: Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service

[3] National Outcomes and Standards for Social Work Services in the Criminal Justice System: Criminal Justice Social Work Reports and Court-based services – Practice Guidance (Scottish Government, 2010)

[4] McAra, L & McVie, S (2013), ‘Delivering Justice for Children and Young People: Key Messages from the Edinburgh Study of Youth Transitions and Crime’ in A Dockley (ed.), Justice for Young People: Papers by Winners of the Research Medal 2013. Howard League for Penal Reform, pp. 3-14.

[5] h

Posted in Uncategorized Tagged with: ,

Sentencing and Release from Prison: the End of ‘Automatic Early Release’?

In the first of three posts on current issues in sentencing in Scotland, Cyrus Tata considers the radical new arrangements governing the release of prisoners in Scotland that have just come into force. What are they and what impact will they have? Is there a better way forward?

Dr Cyrus Tata is Professor of Law and Criminal Justice, Centre for Law, Crime and Justice, Strathclyde University Law School.

Currently, all sentenced prisoners, (except those on indeterminate sentences such as lifers), must be released conditionally before the expiration of their sentence to serve the remainder of that time under supervision in the community.[1] The release is conditional meaning that if during the remaining period of his/her sentence the person fails to comply with conditions they are subject to recall to prison.[2] The rationale is simple: it is to reduce reoffending. Rather than simply releasing people ‘cold’ from incarceration where they may struggle to cope with liberation in the community (and so be more likely to offend), there is a mandatory period of supervision and support to help the person find their feet and so be more likely to go straight.[3]

In Scotland, short-term prisoners, (i.e. those sentenced to less than four years), are released conditionally at the half way point of their sentence. A long-term prisoner, (i.e. someone sentenced to four years or more), may apply for discretionary release from prison (parole) from the halfway point in their sentence. If his/her application is not granted by the Parole Board (or decides not to apply), and s/he was sentenced before February 2016, s/he must be released at the two-thirds point of their sentence so as to be subject to mandatory supervision in the community until the sentence end date.

This means that by enabling the reintegration of long-term prisoners the chances of serious reoffending is reduced. In practice, much more effort tends to go into the supervision and support of long-term prisoners than short-term prisoners. To the extent that one might be sceptical about conditional release in practice as a surreptitious way of reducing the prison population, it is easier to make that argument about short-term prisoner release (which tends to be less conditional and less closely supervised and supported) than long-term prisoners whose release tends to be more genuinely conditional as well as more rigorously monitored.

It is, therefore, ironic that new legislation will attack the very part of the system which is most defensible.

When a Label is Fatal

Unfortunately, these release arrangements have come to be mis-labelled as ‘automatic early release’, sometimes even ‘unconditional automatic early release’. Such labels are as misleading as they are damaging. First, they omit mention of the very purpose of such release: managed, supervised and conditional release so as to reduce reoffending. Secondly, where such a label becomes the accepted political and media standard, the attempt to explain the system is already fatally prejudiced. ‘Surely’, the argument goes, ‘any idiot can see that just letting prisoners out before the end of their sentence is dishonest and dangerous?’ Where governments and parliaments themselves come to use a term like ‘automatic early release’ as an accepted label to describe the reality of a mandatory period of conditional, supervised release then it becomes politically self-evident that a seemingly dishonest and dangerous system should be abolished.[4]

So What’s Changed?

The Prisoners Control of Release (Scotland) Act 2015 means that long term prisoners (ie those sentenced to four years or more) sentenced on or after 1st February 2016 will no longer have to be conditionally released under supervision at the two thirds point of the sentence. Instead, a long-term prisoner who has not been granted release under discretionary parole, will not be subject to conditional supervised release until the final six months of his/her sentence.[5] So for instance, someone who has been sentenced to 12 years and would currently be released under mandatory conditional supervision for three years will now be under such mandatory conditional supervision for only the final six months of his/her sentence (in this case after 11 and a half years’ imprisonment).[6]

The End of ‘Automatic Early Release’… Or is it?

Hawk-eyed readers will have spotted that while the 2014 Act drastically reduces the mandatory period of conditional supervised release, it does not, in fact, abolish it. In response to criticism which identified the problem of releasing people ‘cold’ from a long sentence, the Scottish Government amended the Bill at Stage 2 to include a blanket period of six months. To put it another way, so-called ‘Automatic Early Release’ for long-term prisoners has been cut, but not been ended. This may sound strange. Google ‘Automatic Early Release in Scotland’ and all the media headlines report the Scottish Government’s news release that ‘automatic early release’ has been ‘ended’.

In fact the Government’s case that it has ‘ended’ AER is based on having ended AER in respect of the relatively small number of prisoners who are subject to an Extended Sentence.[7] Yet, by definition, those subject to an Extended Sentence are required to undergo a mandatory period of conditional, supervised release as part of their sentence anyway.

Nonetheless, for the time being at least, politicians may feel that at least for the coming general election they can claim to have dealt with so-called ‘automatic early release’.

The political problem is less short-term: the thorny issue of release from prison will re-emerge.

Will Cutting the Mandatory Period of Conditional, Supervised Release to Six Months Improve Public Safety?

Currently, long-term prisoners are currently subject to (in many cases very demanding) conditions on release and can be recalled to custody at any point during this period. Will the cut of this period of supervised conditional release to just six months be sufficient?

Reintegration of Long-Term Prisoners, including those considered a high risk, takes time.

Rehabilitation and reintegration take time, especially where someone has been incarcerated for many years. Released prisoners need to be settled into a community (e.g. securing accommodation and benefits) before supervisors can work with them on longer term issues (such as reducing reoffending and finding employment). Six months may be too short a time in which to supervise in the community and progress reintegration, not least when some released prisoners are placed in temporary hostel or bed and breakfast accommodation for periods often up to a year or more[8].

A briefing document submitted by academics, Social Work Scotland and Third Sector Agencies to MSPs during the passage of the Bill observed:

“Shortening the mandatory period of support and supervision and seeing its main function as merely technical compliance is likely to be counterproductive. For example, even where prisoners develop ‘narratives of transformation’ in prison, they can struggle to fulfil and realise their aspirations post-release, partly because of a lack of support and lack of acceptance in the community[9]. Similarly, ongoing research[10] suggests that ex-prisoners commonly perceive supervision on licence as counterproductive in terms of resettlement where it is felt to be merely a mechanistic monitoring exercise. Unfortunately, the proposals to reduce supervised release to just six months for all long-term prisoners are likely to make it appear even more mechanistic.”[emphasis added]

This issue is all the more acute when we recall that we are talking about prisoners whom the Parole Board has decided not to release. By definition, those considered by the Parole Board to pose the greatest risk to public safety will not be released until six months before their sentence end date. The 2015 Act has the effect of reducing the mandatory period of conditional supervision and support to the very people who seem to need it most.

It is difficult to understand the logic of the legislation, at least on the grounds of public safety, unless one chooses to abandon the widely-acknowledged need to resettle long term prisoners while on licence because it helps to reduce the chances of reoffending.

Costs and Priorities

The Scottish Government estimates that the current system of automatic early release for all long term prisoners will escalate from £4.6m in 2019/20 to £16.7m in 2030/31. To put it in context: this equates to more than half of the Scottish Government’s current budget for community justice (£31.8m in 2015/16).

In response to concerns about the cost at a time of public spending cuts, the Justice Secretary sought to assure the Scottish Parliament Justice Committee that this planned extra cost would be more than off-set by a radical plan to make changes to short-term sentencing “such as a presumption against short sentences, greater use of alternatives to custody, changes in sentencing practice…and alternatives to the traditional custodial estate”.

Politically speaking, reducing the period of mandatory, conditional supervised release (and so claim to have ‘ended AER’) has been the easy bit. Whether and just how the radical reduction in the use of short-term imprisonment will prove far more challenging.

If the 2015 Act has not solved the problem of release from prison, is there a long-term solution?

What is to be Done?

A regime of mandatory conditional supervision and support of prisoners upon release has long been shown to be necessary. This can only be part of the overall determinate sentence.[11]

Combining Clarity with the Public Safety?

On the face of it, there are two competing virtues in determinate sentence cases: clarity in sentencing, (i.e. sentences mean what they say), as opposed to public safety (prisoners are supervised on licence to rebuild their lives and so minimise risk to public safety).

Is there a way resolve this conundrum?

The justifiable complaint that sentences do not mean what they say is a consequence of describing determinate long-term custodial sentences only as custodial when in fact they are always a combination of a custodial element and a mandatory element of conditional supervised release. The fatal error is to allow the latter to be mis-described as ‘Automatic Early Release’, which only gives the impression that prisoners are released without good reason. Instead, all determinate long term custodial sentences should be described as sentences of ‘custody and conditional community supervision’ (or similar).[12] This has the benefit of both being transparent (sentences are what they say) and public safety. It also means that prisoners will no longer be seen to be released ‘early’ – they will be released timeously, conditionally and under supervision.


[1] Indeterminate sentence prisoners (eg those sentenced to a life term) are subject to quite different arrangements from determinate sentence prisoners which mean, importantly, that they are subject to recall to prison for their rest of their lives.

[2] Rates of recall to prison have rocketed in recent years. See for example: Weaver, Tata, Munro, Barry (2012) ‘The Failure of Recall to Prison: Early Release, Front-Door and Back-Door Sentencing and the Revolving Prison Door in Scotland’ The European Journal of Probation Vol 4(1)

[3] A regime of mandatory conditional release with supervision and support has long been shown to be necessary For example: Report of the (Kincraig) Review Committee Parole and Related Issues in Scotland, March 1989; Report of the (Maclean) Committee on Serious Violent and Sexual Offenders June 2000; Hutton and Levy (2002) Parole Decisions and Release Outcomes (Scottish Executive Central Research Unit); The Scottish Prisons (McLeish) Commission, Scotland’s Choice, 2008

[4] It was widely asserted that the abolition of so-called AER was an SNP manifesto commitment. In fact, its manifesto was more cautious than that committing to abolition only once the terms of the McLeish Prison Commission had been fulfilled. In other words, a radical reduction in the prison population would first have had to be achieved.

[5] Those long-term prisoners sentenced before 1 February 2016 will be subject to the pre-existing rules provided for in the Prisoners and Criminal Proceedings (Scotland) Act 1993

[6] The rules provided for in section 1 apply to all long-term prisoners sentenced on or after 1 February 2016. Any long-term prisoners sentenced before 1 February 2016 will be subject to the pre-existing rules relating to automatic early release as provided for in the Prisoners and Criminal Proceedings (Scotland) Act 1993.

[7] Section 86 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 allows a court to impose mandatory post-release supervision on certain offenders so as to protect the public from serious harm. An extended sentence may be imposed in indictment cases on: those convicted of a sexual offence who would have received a determinate custodial sentence of any length; or those convicted a violent offence who would have received a determinate custodial sentence of 4 years or more. In 2012/13, 165 Extended Sentences were passed. The Scottish Government’s Stage 1 Policy Memorandum appeared to harbour the hope that judges will recognise the deficiency of its 2014 Act in protecting public safety and so as consequence seek to impose more Extended Sentences instead. The seems to be a circuitous policy approach, which could also have an inflationary effect.

[8] Barry et al, ‘Regulating Justice: The dynamics of compliance and breach in criminal justice social work in Scotland’, ESRC grant reference ES/J02340X/1.

[9] Schinkel, M. (2014) Being Imprisoned: Punishment, Adaptation and Desistance, Palgrave MacMillan: Basingstoke.

[10] Barry et al, ‘Regulating Justice: The dynamics of compliance and breach in criminal justice social work in Scotland’, ESRC grant reference ES/J02340X/1.

[11] For example: Report of the (Kincraig) Review Committee Parole and Related Issues in Scotland, March 1989; Report of the (Maclean) Committee on Serious Violent and Sexual Offenders June 2000; Hutton and Levy (2002) Parole Decisions and Release Outcomes (Scottish Executive Central Research Unit); The Scottish Prisons (McLeish) Commission, Scotland’s Choice, 2008.

[12] This parallels the proposals made by the Sentencing Commission report later botched by the unimplemented 2007 Custodial Sentences and Weapons (S) Act. See D Thomson and C Tata (2011) ‘Sentencing and Prison Release’ SCOLAG 57-59.

Posted in sentencing Tagged with: , , , ,

Prison budget transfer to local authorities and reducing reoffending

Alec SpencerAlec Spencer is convenor of the Scottish Consortium on Crime and Criminal Justice and is an Honorary Professor at Stirling University. He was previously a prison governor and Director of Rehabilitation and Care (SPS).

It seems like a long time, in fact nine years ago, that I gave evidence to the Scottish Prisons Commission (McLeish) and suggested a restructuring of the Scottish prison system into two tiers – a national system for long-term offenders and a local system for short term and remand prisoners. My idea was to give local authorities (then CJAs) the funds and power to manage local prisons and remand institutions in their area. This involved the power to switch resources and to purchase bail hostel or supported accommodation provision, programmes and other services required as an alternative to sending offenders to custody.

This change would have the effect of reversing the ‘perverse incentive’ which makes it cheaper for local communities to send offenders to prison (funded by the government) than to provide services for them in their own communities. It would also enable local communities to move resources from expensive prison places to more effective and more economic community interventions and services. Both of these aspects would create a downward pressure on prison numbers.

I am pleased that the reputable Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) has just published a report, Prisons and prevention: Giving local areas the power to reduce offending, suggesting that the Ministry of Justice should follow similar ideas in England and Wales. The report suggests handing £400m from prisons to local authorities and then charging them for every local offender sentenced to less than 24 months. They felt it would act as an incentive to improve local crime prevention. The report also points to similar successful youth justice schemes in the US.

Let’s hope that here in Scotland, Michael Matheson, our Cabinet Secretary for Justice will similarly consider the potential benefits from following such ideas.

Posted in Uncategorized Tagged with:

A reflection on domestic abuse in the Grampian area: policing and the justice system

JanineJanine Ewen is Co-Director of Grampian Women’s Aid appointed in 2015 to work on policy and governance. It is her intention to convert personal experience and circumstance into improving the outcomes for other women and children who have endured domestic abuse.

At the Law Enforcement and Public Health (LEPH) gathering in Amsterdam 2014, Rob Wainwright, and Chief of the European Union’s law enforcement agency (EUROPOL) introduced a European insight on women who experience domestic violence in this way:

“Across Europe 42,000 women cannot reach out to health services because of intimidation and violence from male partners. This is a daily crime that requires actions from health, non-governmental organisations and law enforcement.”

Local numbers from Grampian Women’s Aid (GWA) reveals that 320 women a year seek help from our holistic services, an average of 10 women per week in need of assistance. Figures from Scottish Women’s Aid confirms more than 1000 women and children in Scotland are getting support from Women’s Aid services on any given day. I and my family are recipients of Women’s Aid support.

My mother experienced domestic abuse by my biological father over a ten year period when we lived in Northern Ireland. My personal interests on the policing of domestic violence stems from my own child memories of watching Police Service Northern Ireland (PSNI) officers encouraging my mother to enter back into our house to calm down my father after making a call for help; a call for help during times when we had to seek refuge in our neighbour’s home.

It was, at the time, an ill-judged decision by the PSNI officers to put my mother at further risk in dealing with my father’s violent behaviour, but it also illustrates a different period of time (over 15 years ago). Talking to police officers from the Domestic Abuse Specialist team in Aberdeen gave me the platform to talk more openly about such policing examples. The police need to hear from individuals, from all backgrounds and experiences, for a continuous exploration on their practice approach.

Alison Hay, Manager of Grampian Women’s Aid says, “In our experience the police deal with domestic abuse in a very sensitive way and are very good at working in partnership with agencies like GWA.”

Clare’s Law

Scotland’s major success to prevent domestic abuse through policing and inter-agency collaboration has come from the introduction of the Disclosure Scheme ‘Clare’s Law’, named in remembrance of Clare Wood who was murdered by her violent ex- partner, George Appleton, in 2009. The Disclosure Scheme targets women and men to reduce their risk of experiencing abuse.

Aberdeen was the chosen Scottish city for the Domestic Abuse Disclosure Scheme Pilot. The pilot disclosure parameters are determined by the ‘Right to Ask’ (the right to ask police about a partner’s past) and ‘The Power to Tell’ (power to tell a person information if they are thought to be at risk). With the focus on keeping people safe, the pilot aimed to provide a way of sharing information about a partner’s abusive past, with a potential victim. It gave people at risk of domestic abuse the information needed to make informed decisions on whether to continue their relationship. The scheme was rolled out across Scotland in July 2015. Since then, a number of applications have been made and processed in Grampian:

– 45 applications
– 24 ‘right to ask’
– 10 ‘power to tell’
– 14 disclosures

The average application request works out as 1 per week; this may be viewed as an extremely low number but the communication on the existing scheme and the education behind the application process will take time. The value of having one application should not be diminished.

“It is one number that could help to save a life, which is huge progress to me and my team.” (Detective Inspector Graham Smith, Police Scotland Aberdeen).

The Disclosure Scheme represents more than a route to prevent disastrous consequences (experienced violence or death); it provides people with choice for which can often be blurred or invisible through intimidate partner violence. For women especially, having more autonomy and capacity over their relationship status should be deemed as a triumph for gender equality and their human rights. However, we still need to carry out extensive research from individuals on the impacts of going through the disclosure process. It would also be useful to evaluate the police handling of phone calls from delivering sensitive information. We must ensure that the majority of individuals are benefiting from any new knowledge.

We need to keep to the forefront of our minds what still needs to be done to improve the justice approach.

Coercive control, child contact and media reporting

Domestic abuse is defined as encompassing effects of both physical and emotional harm. Unfortunately Courts still only recognise domestic abuse when the abuse is physical violence; the coercive control which involves other forms of abuse is difficult to evidence. Women in contact with GWA on a regular basis affirm that the emotional abuse takes even longer to recover from than the physical abuse: therefore the justice system needs to be reminded on the need to recognise what abuse is.

There are continuing challenges asked of women with regards to child contact with an ex-partner. Family courts often don’t acknowledge that abuse can continue to happen during child contact from granting regular access for fathers. Children can be affected by this. Women face fear and anxiety from disobeying Family Court Orders, including the worry of being questioned as a reasonable parent in the effort to be granted sole custody of their child/children. The justice system must help to adequately assess and determine the best outcomes for children.

A recent example in Grampian from a domestic abuse case has brought attention to the problems that can arise from press releases issued by Court Reporters. Court reporters are to only report on the facts placed before the courts and such articles can be viewed as a fair and balanced account (a public denouncement when a woman acts aggressively towards a man who abused her for a period of time). As far as giving out the victims personal details and picture for the press release is concerned, this is a judgement call the courts to decide what is placed in the public domain. The general point is that media understanding of the impact of domestic abuse is important.

Local and national press have covered numerous stories in recent times on domestic abuse and what that entails, all with the intent to improve victim support. Reporters must ensure they fully understand the facts with more thought on what the long term implications for victims of abuse may be from a public denouncement.

Grampian Women’s Aid website:
Call Us: 01224 593381

I would like to acknowledge Alison Hay, the Manager of Grampian Women’s Aid for encouraging my involvement with the charity and who continues to help me deal with the past. I would also like to thank Detective Inspector Graham Smith for providing recent numbers on Clare’s Law in Grampian.

Posted in Police Tagged with:

Policing by numbers

In another of her posts on policing, Kath Murray comments on police officer statistics.

Chart 1. Total number of Police Officers (Full-time Equivalent) in Scotland, 2007-15*

Chart 1. Total number of Police Officers (Full-time Equivalent) in Scotland, 2007-15*

Source: Scottish Government, 2015
(* Note the condensed y-axis.)

Recently, the Sunday Herald published an article on police officers numbers in Scotland. This suggested that the number of front-line officers available for duty, was around 10,000. This is a good deal lower than the 17,000 plus figure regularly cited by the Scottish Government, by dint of its policy commitment to maintaining 1,000 more officers than in 2007.
On the one hand, as the article explained, some of the discrepancy can be legitimately explained. On the other hand, it appears to be a huge shortfall, which raises serious questions in relation to transparency around police officers numbers in Scotland.

Looking to England and Wales, annual data on police officer strength are published as National Statistics by the Home Office. This includes:

  • Types of police worker
  • Ethnicity and gender (by rank)
  • Numbers available for duty
  • Numbers broken down by rank
  • Trends over time
  • Numbers of operational frontline, operational support and business support
  • Numbers of leavers and joiners
  • Other type of police worker
  • Special constables

To be clear, as Jack Greig-Midlane shows in this excellent blog (which deftly unpacks David Cameron’s recent claim that there has been a five-fold increase in neighbourhood officers) these data are not immune to political shenanigans. Nonetheless, the fact that he is in a position to take the data apart differentiates England and Wales from Scotland.

In Scotland, the Scottish Government publish data on the total number of police officers over time (shown above)* whilst Police Scotland publish a breakdown by Division. No other data are available. On asking for a breakdown by rank, Police Scotland advised the Sunday Herald to submit a Freedom of Information request.

I’d suggest that this discrepancy between the two jurisdictions needs to be addressed. Police officer strength is a flagship Scottish Government policy, yet there’s no meaningful data available to support this.

Of course, there may a strong case for maintaining an additional 1,000 police officers, rather than say, a 1,000 extra care workers. However, this needs to be credible, evidence-based and take into account the overall cut in the police budget. The case should also clearly map out how police officer and staff resources in Scotland are deployed.

Dr Kath Murray is a criminal justice researcher at the University of Edinburgh.

Posted in Police

Sentencing and the Allure of Imprisonment

Sentencing and Benevolent Imprisonment: why Rehabilitation Should Not be a Ground for Custodial Sentencing

Cyrus Tata is Professor of Law and Criminal Justice, Centre for Law, Crime and Justice, Strathclyde University Law School.

The Scottish Prison Service is transforming itself by focusing more on rehabilitation. This is a welcome development. Yet there is an unintended consequence of that transformation: custody may become a more alluring sentencing option. Against a background of increasing cuts to budgets for community-based services, this creates a serious risk that more non-dangerous people will end up going to prison, not because the seriousness of their offending requires it, but because of a benign desire to address their needs. To preclude this unintended consequence the first step is to enunciate publicly two clear principles. The first should clarify that the decision to imprison hinges on the seriousness of offending. The second principle should spell out that no one should be sent to custody for the specific purpose of rehabilitation, unless warranted by the seriousness of offending.

In its aspiration to build “the most progressive justice system in Europe”[1], the Scottish Government has stated for almost a decade its commitment to a radical reduction in the prison population. Scotland has one of the highest per capita rates of imprisonment in Europe. Echoing his predecessor, the Cabinet Secretary for Justice has repeatedly said that there is no good reason why this should be so.

Those wishing to reduce the number of people in custody have to grapple with the fact that custodial sentences are not only passed to denounce and exclude the individual. One of the reasons why we are so attached to imprisonment derives from the enticing belief that a positive programme of institutionalisation can improve the lives of the people sent there.

That non-dangerous people should be confined in large part for their own good is not a new sentiment. Victorian society believed strongly in the power of institutions to reform the individual. Vulnerable people convicted of non-violent crimes who have long been thought to benefit from benevolent imprisonment. Prison seems to offer a seductive combination of help, protection and control. As psychiatric institutions, (which had for decades confined people ‘for their own good’), closed during the 1980s and 1990s so the people who once populated them are ending up before the courts and in prison.

This is a particular problem in relation to women in the criminal justice system. The motivation to imprison such women is normally benign. It is not uncommon for practitioners to talk about women who have repeatedly committed relatively minor offences, or not complied with the terms of their community-based orders, as benefiting from a spell in custody as a place of help, protection and sanctuary, or, because nothing else seems to work. Similarly, it is tempting to think of young people as in need of detention for the purpose of retraining. Vulnerable men with chaotic lives, but whose offending behaviour is troublesome but does not pose a danger to the public, may be thought to be helped insofar as imprisonment so that their complex needs can receive attention, or, even because there appears to be nowhere else for them. Occasionally, it is noted that some vulnerable people would even prefer prison because life in the community has become too difficult.

It is all too easy to imagine that custody, if creatively reconfigured, can represent a sort of kindness which, if not required by the seriousness of offending itself, is best placed to address complex personal issues such as drug and alcohol misuse, homelessness, family breakdown, mental health issues, illiteracy and even unemployment. Yet we also know that the best way to help vulnerable people struggling to cope with life in the community is to support them in that community, rather than incarcerate them.

The Re-Birth of Benevolent Prison Sentencing?

The Scottish Prison Service (SPS) has been embarking on a radical transformation of imprisonment. Prison conditions are becoming far less degrading than they used to be. Prisons in Scotland are being overhauled. This is surely a very good thing. People are, after all, sentenced to imprisonment as punishment not for punishment.

And yet there is also a very real danger in this transformation. The danger is not in the welcome transformation of prison regimes, but in the unintended consequences for penal sentencing policy and practice.

Unintended consequences

As the experience of custody is being re-imagined as a positive, constructive, even creative experience so it will be hardly surprising if prison becomes a more alluring place to send people – not because of the seriousness of their crimes, nor because they are a danger to the public, but in large measure for their own good. This is not a criticism of the SPS’s bold transformation of the experience of imprisonment: the Service can only do its best with the people it receives – and, in a civilised society, it must do so. Neither is it a criticism of the judiciary, social workers, lawyers and other practitioners involved in the sentencing process.

All of us aim to recognise that personal and social problems lie behind offending. We are frustrated by the revolving door of the justice system and want to do something constructive. At the same time, we need to acknowledge that no matter how constructive a prison regime may be, if we really want address the needs of low level offenders struggling to cope with life in the community then community-based support is the far better way to help. Moreover, because it necessitates social exclusion, exacerbates a sense of social dislocation and stigmatises for life[2], imprisonment makes the subsequent attempts to move away from offending all the more difficult.

In a context in which non-custodial sentences still struggle to gain credibility in the eyes of legal professionals, politicians and the public, and in which social services are being stretched, and in which third sector funding is precarious, there is always prison to fall back on. When other options don’t seem to work, there is prison. When convicted individuals seem unable or unwilling to comply with community-based sentences, there is always prison ‘as a last resort’. The language of ‘last resort’ in effect renders prison as the default. In our current discourse it is the central sentence and all other sentences are cast as marginal ‘alternatives’, which have to prove themselves. But prison is a given. While non-custodial sentences and social services are so stretched, imprisonment, on the other hand, appears as the dependable, credible and well-resourced default.

The result is likely to be self-perpetuating: resources are sucked into the credible, robust and reliable option of imprisonment at the expense of community-based programmes which appear as weak, unreliable and poorly explained.

Unlike community justice, the prison sector is far better organised, better funded and more effective in communicating its message publicly. Its message now is about the transformation of the prison from de-humanising squalor to opportunity and self-improvement. Employment opportunities, it is pointed out, are increasing and prisoners can learn new skills: pointless mail-bag sewing is long gone, and increasingly prisoners can avail themselves of an array of courses and qualifications. Visitor centres in prison are becoming less cheerless soul-destroying places for prisoners and their families. Prison officers are morphing from mere guards to facilitators of personal change. Prisons in Scotland are beginning to be re-born as places of personal improvement: positive, constructive, enterprising places to retrain wayward citizens. In the context of the massive transformation of the face and character of imprisonment, one could not entirely blame the politician (or anyone else) who takes a tour of one of Scotland’s new-style prisons and comes away thinking: ‘prison life in Scotland is not bad at all these days and people are really being helped and rehabilitated there, quite unlike the shoe-string community-based options’.

So, you may ask, what is the problem? If prisons are now becoming places of rehabilitation isn’t that good? The problem is that for all the good work which may be done in prison and the aspiration of the Prison Service to do more to facilitate a reduction in reoffending, a prison is still a prison. A prison is not, in essence, a hospital, school, college, employment centre, friendship network, nor, a family. It is, by definition, first and foremost, a place of secure confinement. Even if the deprivation of liberty is the sum total of the punishment, that is an imposed pain which diminishes the people who feel it. Prison is a means of excluding people from mainstream society. For those people whose offending requires them to be there, prison can and should try to help them. But imprisonment can never really replicate the complexities and uncertainties of outside society.

So, to take a crude example, the seriousness of offending by those convicted of armed robbery may mean that they should be imprisoned and while they are there the prison service should do its best to help them change. Those convicted of much more minor offences should not be imprisoned, no matter how needy they may appear.

We should remember that, no matter how impressive the regime, the loss of liberty, and so the reduction of personal autonomy, is the essence of imprisonment. This is why talk of ‘desistance prisons’ is as fanciful as it is alarming. By its very nature, imprisonment delays the maturation, disrupts the social bonds and frustrates the transformations in self-identity that desistance research suggests are key elements of the process.[3] Most centrally, the value and exercise of personal autonomy are central to the desistance approach and to understanding the journey away from crime. This emphasis on personal autonomy distinguishes it from earlier ideas of rehabilitation and treatment.

Put simply, you can never really prepare someone for the outside by keeping them inside – that is why community-based sentences, (and diversion from prosecution), have always been associated with lower levels of reoffending than custody. Indeed, when all else is controlled for, imprisonment appears to have a criminogenic effect.[4]


So what should be done?

None of this is intended an argument for the abolition of imprisonment. Nor is it an argument for the mere warehousing, or humane containment, of prisoners. I hope the Scottish Prison Service will continue to seek to improve the experience of imprisonment and try to rehabilitate those it receives, while also acknowledging publicly the limits of what imprisonment can achieve.

Rather it is an argument for confining the use of imprisonment in our society. We should start by enunciating two fundamental principles:

  1. Imprisonment should be used sparingly and specifically only where warranted by the seriousness of offending; and
  2. Rehabilitation, self-improvement and other forms of personal help intended to address an individual’s personal and social needs should be expressly excluded as grounds for recommending, suggesting and passing a custodial sentence, even if they are a part of progressive prison regimes.

Clearly circumscribing the use of prison sentencing may also help to reduce understandable anxieties among some sectors of the justice system perceiving a prison service with imperial ambitions colonising the rehabilitation agenda. Whether or not this perception is accurate is beside the point: perceptions count and trust between the community justice and prison sectors depends on government (and perhaps parliament) setting out an explicit statement limiting the use of custodial sentencing.

How exactly these two principles should be enacted is a matter beyond the scope of this short paper. If seriousness of offending is the test in the decision whether or not to imprison, it means that where offending is not sufficiently serious to warrant imprisonment no one can be sent to prison because of their personal needs. Rather, sentencing decision-making should assess the culpability of the person and the harm caused. What exactly culpability and harm mean in specific kinds of cases is something which needs to be developed through open discussion (perhaps led by the new Sentencing Council).

All of this is, of course, only a start and third sector and community-based funding and visibility have to be addressed.

Yet, if, as a society, we do not explicitly rule out the rehabilitation of the individual as a specific ground for a sentence of imprisonment, we will see growth in the use of custody – not because of a desire to denounce and exclude, but as the unintended consequence of a desire to help.

I would like to express my gratitude to the following people for their comments on an earlier draft of this paper: Andrew Coyle, Dan Gunn, Fiona Jamieson, Fergus McNeill, Maggie Mellon, Mary Munro, and Tom O’Malley.

[1] Michael Matheson (2015) ‘My vision of how Scotland can change the way the world treats female offenders’ Sunday Herald 24 May 2015

[2] See e.g. T Chiciros K Barrick W Balles and S Bontrager ‘The Labeling of Convicted Felons and its Consequences for Recidivism’ Criminology 45(3): 547-581

[3] For a simple introduction to desistance, see for example, themed issue of Scottish Justice Matters 1(2) Dec 2013; and some of the policy implications are raised in a short paper by B Weaver and F McNeill (2007) Giving up Crime: Directions for Policy (SCCJR). None of this is to say that the experience from desistance research is irrelevant to prisons: the quality of the regimes really matters. But it does mean that imprisonment, no matter how progressive, by its nature diminishes autonomy.

[4] See, for instance, the recent large controlled study which found: “…prison was associated with a small but significant increase in the proportion of people reoffending (7%-8%), the number of reoffences committed (16%- 20%), and a substantial increase in the proportion of individuals being incarcerated (36%-40%).” D. Joliffe and C. Hedderman (2015) ‘Investigating the Impact of Custody on Reoffending Using Propensity Score Matching’ Crime & Delinquency 61(8) 1051-1077 at 1070

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Redesigning Community Justice in Scotland?

Katrina MorrisonKatrina Morrison is a lecturer in criminology at Edinburgh Napier University.

‘Redesigning Community Justice’ is the latest in a long list of reforms which have sought to organise the administration and delivery of community justice in Scotland. As I have argued elsewhere (Morrison 2015), all of the previous reforms have grappled in some way with improving the legitimacy and status of community justice, and with the competing tensions between central and local control. An examination of the latest set of reforms reveal that these issues continue to dominate community justice in Scotland, and it is questionable whether, as they stand, the latest proposals will offer much of an improvement on the current arrangements.

In May 2015, legislation aimed at reforming the structures of community justice delivery in Scotland was published as part of the Redesigning Community Justice agenda. This follows the decision at the end of 2013 to disband Community Justice Authorities (CJAs), the existing bodies which oversee the delivery of community justice. The Community Justice (Scotland) Bill seeks to create a new national body, Community Justice Scotland, which will be a strategic body providing oversight, monitoring performance, and promoting awareness of community justice. The delivery of community justice will remain under local authority control, but its administration will be handed over to Community Planning Partnerships (CPPs), existing bodies which co-ordinate a range of services including those relating to health, housing, education, employment and community safety delivered by public, private, voluntary and third sector organisations.

New National Body

There is a recognition that the system of community justice needs an increased status and a more unified ‘voice’, which can be heard at the top table along with other national bodies such as the SPS, Police Scotland, the Scottish Court Service and so on. Currently, there is no one point of contact (or indeed accountable organisation or individual), for community justice, and the creation of Community Justice Scotland would aim to change that. The existence of a central body, albeit one with more of a strategic overview than operational responsibility, also has greater potential to be able to drive forward change, and is therefore more attractive from the perspective of central government ‘command and control’. The government have stated that they want the principles of desistance theory to be embedded into community justice at a strategic level. Incorporating this into the new National Strategy, but more importantly into actual practice, will be one of the key tasks for the service in the future and would be made easier with the existence of the new national body. However, local authorities have already indicated they will do what they can to limit the power and scope of Community Justice Scotland, and it remains to be seen to what extent the Justice Department responds to this pressure as the Bill progresses.

Local Authority Delivery

If the need for increased status, a unified ‘voice’, and the ability to drive forward meaningful change in a uniform way, all imply the need for some sort of central presence and control, there are concurrent pressures towards keeping the service organised locally. Repeated attempts at reform over the decades have been motivated to a large extent by a frustration on the part of the Scottish Government (and before them, the Scottish Office), to exert more leverage over a local authority controlled service amidst concerns around efficiency, coordination, and the legitimacy of the service in the eyes of sentencers and the public. Perhaps the fact the recent reforms have fallen short, yet again, of removing the service from full local authority control, lie in the recognition that community justice must remain fundamentally orientated in social work practice and ethos, something which previous attempts at centralisation and reform were explicitly attempting to remove. Of course, the fact that many of the services essential to offenders’ reintegration and desistance are also organised on a local level, also supports a locally organised community justice model (although there is a recognition, even within CPPs, that the Bill as introduced requires much greater clarity about how this will work). The decision has been taken to retain a largely localised model for community justice for the time being at least. However, it is interesting to reflect on the reasons why the centralisation of the police was pursued, and the centralisation of CJSW was not at this stage. As ever, it may be that external political factors were as important as the immediate issues at hand.

The eventual outcome of the proposals will depend on the Bill’s parliamentary process, but they are unlikely to depart too radically from the strategic central body / CPP local delivery model. The success of the new structures which will emerge from the process depends on several factors including whether Community Justice Scotland will be able to provide real national profile and leadership, the extent of the powers it is granted within the legislation and whether it will be able to hold CPPs and local authorities to account. Furthermore, success will depend on whether the administration of CJSW via 32 administrative units will succeed in reducing the fragmentation and inefficiencies which prompted previous reforms, the ability of national bodies (primarily the SPS) to be able to co-ordinate and plan delivery with so many local partners, and whether CPPs will be able to prioritise community justice services in the bustle of a busy planning environment.

See also: McNeill, F and Miller, M. (2013) Reform? Revisit? Replace? Scottish Justice Matters 1:1 5-8.

Morrison, K. (2015) ‘The management of community justice services in Scotland: policy-making and the dynamics of central and local control’. In: Wasik, M. and Sotirios, S. (eds) The Management of Change in Criminal Justice: Who Knows Best? London: Palgrave MacMillan.

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Policing, postcodes and poverty: stop and search and class

Kath MurrayKath Murray is an SCCJR research associate at the University of Edinburgh.

For over three decades, public and political debate on the use of stop and search ‘has been inescapably linked to “race”’. In Scotland however, a different narrative has emerged in the last couple of years. Here, much of the story has revolved around age, from the volume of searches that fall on young people, to the use of non-statutory stop and search on young children.

There are two good reasons for this focus. First, the age-distribution of stop and search in some parts of Scotland is clearly out of kilter with offending trends. In other words, it’s disproportionate. The second is the fact that age is easily measured (a similar point can be made for gender).

Whilst age is important, it’s not the full story. The missing factor is social and economic deprivation. Whilst Scotland may have unusually high rates of stop and search, the extent to which these searches fall on the poor is likely to be staggering. It seems clear that deprivation and exclusion lies at the heart of Scotland’s uneasy relationship with this controversial tactic. The problem is, we can’t nail it.

Looking at electoral ward data provides some clues. The Calton ward in Glasgow has one of the highest levels of stop and search, together with multiple deprivation and low male life expectancy. In 2005, 45% of the population were income deprived, compared to 25% in Glasgow City. In 2014/15, the recorded search rate among males in Calton was 879 searches per 1,000 population, more than double the rate for Glasgow City. For twelve to fifteen year olds in Calton, the recorded search rate was 1,310 per 1,000. Calton is a relatively high crime area. Still, it’s a huge number of searches, of which 75% were negative.

Turning to the practicalities of capturing the relationship between policing and deprivation. Police data documents where stop searches take place; but not where those searched come from, or at least, not in a quantifiable format. One method would be to systematically record all names and addresses. However, these individual entries would need to be linked, which is easier said than done. Moreover, unless a search has uncovered something unlawful, recording people’s details raises serious concerns in relation to privacy and data retention.

A potential compromise might be to request a person’s postcode. This would preserve anonymity and provide a reasonable, if not exact, indicator as to the extent to which searches impact on people from deprived areas.

Deprivation is a key stop and search indicator on several counts. At the heart of the matter is the fact that inequality can be linked to violent crime. Also, public services have a duty to reduce inequality. Policies which exacerbate marginalization or push out certain sectors of the population go against this principle and are likely to be counter-productive. For example, research shows that excessive targeting is likely to damage public trust in and support for the police.

Social justice and tackling inequality are currently at the top of the political agenda in Scotland. As a core public service, policing needs to be part of this debate. Nailing the relationship between the use of stop and search and deprivation would make a good start.


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Turning off the tap: policy and practice for women in criminal justice in Scotland

Alec Spencer

PinkmanAlec Spencer is convenor of the Scottish Consortium on Crime and Criminal Justice and Anne Pinkman is convenor of the Scottish Working Group on Women Offenders. This is the text of a joint document submitted to Michael Matheson, Justice Secretary on the 18th June 2015.

Women in the criminal justice system are known to be vulnerable and, most often, have themselves been victimised. Therefore:

  • Women should always be treated with respect and humanity, no matter what circumstances bring them into contact with the criminal justice system
  • The focus should remain upon the individual, and not solely her behaviour or offence

There are three key points at which action can be taken to prevent women from entering prison. The Scottish Government should use its legislative, policy-making and funding powers to ensure action is taken at each point.

  • Prevention
  • Poverty underlies much criminal offending and homelessness often results from imprisonment. The Scottish Government should invest in welfare reform to lift women and children out of poverty. We suggest that the new income tax-raising powers that will take effect on 1 April 2016 could be used to mitigate the impact of welfare reform measures introduced by the UK Government.
  • No woman should ever lose her tenancy due to being remanded into custody, and no woman should ever be released from prison without a secure home to go to.
  • There should be a major investment in training in trauma informed practice. This should be made compulsory for all sectors working with vulnerable women.
  • Women who live chaotic lives often fail to access services because they cannot travel to appointments, or cannot manage strictly timed appointments. Health, social work and voluntary services must become more accessible by offering flexible working practices and outreach. The Scottish Government should provide extra funding to services that adapt in this way.
  • Services for women should be mapped, and funding should be made available to ensure that there are suitable services available throughout the country.
  • Scotland currently has the lowest age of criminal responsibility in Europe at only eight years of age. SCCCJ strongly supports this being changed to at least 12, in line with UN recommendations (UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC), CRC General Comment No. 10 (2007): Children’s Rights in Juvenile Justice, 25 April 2007, CRC/C/GC/10 Paragraph 32) and would like the Scottish government to consider raising it to 15 in line with the Nordic countries such as Norway, Sweden, Finland.
  • Diversion and alternatives to prosecution
  • Services, such as community justice centres, that support women in need, should be funded to provide a 24 hour on-call service to the police, so that the police are supported to find alternative solutions for women at risk of arrest or detention. Triage diversion should be available in every custody suite.
  • If the police judge that arrest is inevitable, there must be immediate arrangements made for the care of any dependent children, and the woman should be involved in those arrangements, as far as practicable.
  • Police Scotland should highlight in their report to the Procurator Fiscal whether a person is suitable for diversion, taking into consideration the victim and community, thus helping Procurators Fiscal to quickly identify suitable cases for diversion.
  • Prosecutors should always consider diversion from prosecution, and should play a key role in achieving the Scottish Government’s target to reduce the number of women in prison.
  • Prosecutors should always have up to date information on the availability of services for women in their area, to whom they can make referrals as an alternative to prosecution.
  • Prosecutors should be able to access services at any time, and the Scottish Government should provide funding to enable appropriate services to respond to a request from COPFS to provide support to a woman who would otherwise be prosecuted.
  • Sentencing
  • We request that the Scottish Government considers an increase in the presumption against sentence to 6 months or be even bolder and go up to 12 months.
  • Legislation should be enacted to ensure that if there is no likelihood of a custodial sentence being handed down, the court cannot remand the accused to custody.
  • Prosecutors should not object to an application for bail if there are suitable alternatives available such as supervised bail or electronic monitoring.
  • Every court should maintain a current map of local services so that the full range of available sentencing options can be considered in each case.
  • Community Justice Centres, or other appropriate services, should be funded to provide a liaison service to the courts to avoid any situation where a woman is sentenced to custody in the belief that such a sentence would be beneficial, or would secure services not otherwise available.
  • The Scottish Government should support the judiciary and the legal profession to understand the availability of, and make use of, the full range of sentencing options such as supervised bail, suspended sentences, and electronic monitoring (EM).
  • Services should be funded to support women for whom electronic monitoring is deemed appropriate, so that EM is not a stand-alone sentence.

Turn off the tap: Justice reinvestment blueprint

Close HMP & YOI Cornton Vale.

Although we do not currently have the figures for the running costs of HMP & YOI Cornton Vale, the report of the Scottish Prison’s Commission “Scotland’s Choice” made the following statement on cost savings in the Scottish prison system:

We want our prisons to hold dangerous and serious offenders safely and securely, and to support their ability to lead law abiding lives when they are released. Only about one-third of prisoners manage to avoid reconviction for two years after being released. Does this level of success justify the level of investment or are there other options where we would be more wise to invest? If the average number of people held in prison were reduced by even 500, this would represent a notional annual saving to the taxpayer of £15 million to £20 million. Conversely, increasing the prison system by 700 places will cost an additional £21.7 million to £28 million annually to operate. The notional savings resulting from reducing the prison population by 700 would for example, be enough to fund a national roll-out of an internationally recognised initiative to wipe out illiteracy across Scotland.(Source: Alec Spencer (2008),‘The Unnecessary Cost of Imprisonment,’lecture, The Future of Prisons in Scotland Conference)

Reduce homelessness related to remand and unnecessary imprisonment. The cost to national government of each case of homelessness is estimated to be £26,000 per year. For local authorities to evict, rehouse and re-let (excluding legal costs) it is estimated to be £23, 856 per tenancy[1]. If 10 instances of homelessness could be prevented each year, the saving for national government and local authorities would be £260,000 and £238, 560 respectively.

The economic and social cost per drug user in Scotland is estimated to be £50,000 per year.[2] If 10 women can be helped out of drug addiction, the economy would benefit by £607,030 each year. The average cost of one DTTO order (including drug courts) is £9,6053

It costs an average of £5,328 per week, or £277,056 per year, for each place in secure accommodation.[3] Preventing 2 girls going into secure accommodation would save £554,112 per year.

The current unit cost of diversion from prosecution in Scotland is £332 (CJSW costs). The average prosecution costs for summary and justice of the peace courts are £342 with the average court costs of £115 and average legal assistance costs of £315 on top of that making a total unit cost of £772 source: Table 2 estimates of the cost of criminal procedure and Table 3 estimate of the unit costs of community services / disposals in file 00474266_crimjustice costs 2015.xls

Support women to remain in the community and to take up employment. The average wage in Scotland is £27, 045.[4] This salary would attract tax of £3,400, and National Insurance of £2,285.[5] If 10 women at risk of imprisonment can be supported into paid employment instead, they would contribute £34,000 in tax and £22,850 in National Insurance, in addition to their positive contribution to the Scottish economy in general. This positive contribution would be in addition to the cost savings outlined above.


[2] Scottish Devolution and Social Policy: Evidence from the First Decade” (2012), edited by Murray Leith, Tim Laxton, Iain McPhee who cite Casey et al, Scottish Government Social Research (2009) that “…the cost of £60,703 per problematic drug user.




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