Crime and punishment: keeping the focus on prevention
While problems with policing still hit the headlines, behind the scenes, positive work is going on in crime prevention
Justice - Image credit: Holyrood
On April Fools’ Day, Police Scotland and its overseeing body, the Scottish Police Authority (SPA), celebrated their fifth anniversary, but the journey has been no joke for the Scottish Government.
Both bodies have been beset by problems since the flagship policing reform of 2013.
In fact the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee celebrated the anniversary by announcing a review of the 2012 Police and Fire Reform Act that created Police Scotland and the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service from eight regional services, as well as the SPA, Police Investigations and Review Commissioner (PIRC) and Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland (HMICS).
Speaking as the inquiry launched, Justice Committee convener Margaret Mitchell said: “The last five years have been a period of unprecedented change in our fire and police services.
“While undoubtedly there are examples of resilience and partnership working, there have also been some problem areas identified since the mergers.
“In particular, the committee is keen to establish whether the issues faced by the services are to be expected as ‘teething problems’ or whether legislative changes are needed after five years.”
The act is one of the most significant pieces of reform legislation since devolution and the Justice Committee review will be examining whether the changes brought about have fulfilled the original ambitions.
The aim of the mergers was to protect and improve frontline services despite financial cuts, to remove duplication and to increase the availability of national specialist services such as flood rescue, murder investigation and firearms.
It was also meant to strengthen the connections between the emergency services and local communities through formal links with each of the 32 councils and achieve better integration with community planning partnerships.
As Police Scotland hit the five-year mark, the Scottish Liberal Democrats called for a service-wide Police Scotland staff survey.
They pointed out that the last staff survey in 2015 found only 17 per cent of Police Scotland staff thought the force was a great place to work, while less than a quarter felt they had the resources needed to do their job.
Recently, former health minister Susan Deacon was appointed as the new chair of the SPA, and she will be joined by seven new SPA board members with a wide variety of experience.
These are NHS Health Scotland chair David Crichton, Edinburgh Airport chief executive Gordon Dewar, Carnegie UK Trust chief executive Martyn Evans – who recently chaired a review of legal aid in Scotland, former Falkirk Council chief executive Mary Pitcaithly, SACRO CEO and former Lothian & Borders deputy chief constable Tom Halpin, former OSCR CEO Jane Ryder and City of Edinburgh Council chief social work officer Michelle Miller.
Together, they will be trying to put behind them an era which has seen a revolving door of SPA chairs and Police Scotland chief constables, along with criticism of the body’s governance, transparency, financial management and a major failed IT project.
They will also have the difficult task of appointing a new chief constable for Police Scotland following the departure of Phil Gormley, who resigned in February in the wake of four investigations into allegations of gross misconduct being launched by PIRC.
This has been a difficult time for Justice Secretary Michael Matheson, who has tended to keep a fairly low profile but more recently has had to defend his decisions robustly in the chamber and to parliamentary committees.
The Scottish Government also recently suffered a humiliating defeat when the opposition parties united against it to vote through a repeal of the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act – the first time a Scottish Parliament act has been reversed without new legislation to replace it.
Meanwhile, the Police Scotland and SPA saga risks being played out again as the Scottish Government seeks to merge the British Transport Police in Scotland into Police Scotland once it becomes devolved next year.
The bill to allow the merger has been passed, but the Scottish Government has already had to delay the merger date from 1 April 2019, with the Scottish Government admitting that it could not meet that deadline without compromising public safety.
As yet, a deadline for proceeding with the merger has not been announced, and serious criticisms have been levelled against the proposals, including the loss of specialised skills, with many BTP officers saying they will not accept a transfer, issues of IT systems and cross-border policing on trains, as well as the SPA being landed with a huge liability for ongoing BTP pensions to maintain current levels after the transfer.
This year also marks 10 years since the McLeish review of Scotland’s prisons, which recommended that alternatives must be sought to lower Scotland’s prison population from the then level of 8,000 to around 5,000.
A presumption against short-term prison sentences of less than three months was introduced in the 2010 Criminal Justice Act and the Scottish Government announced it would be increasing this to 12 months in its Programme for Government in September.
Despite this, Scotland’s prison population remains stubbornly high, continuing to sit at just under 7,500.
According to the latest European comparative statistics for 2016, there were 584.3 entries to prison per 100,000 of population in Scotland, compared to a level in England and Wales of 197.3 and a European average of 167.3.
This level reflects the total number of times someone enters a prison, including the same person being jailed multiple times in a year.
Howard League Scotland describes the Scottish figure as “extraordinarily high”.
Scotland also releases people at a lower rate than the European average, with Scotland among the countries with the lowest turnover rates, meaning more people are being put in prison than are being released.
Within the UK, Scotland has a higher rate of women in prisons than the other nations and a higher rate of deaths in prison – more than double the rate of Northern Ireland.
The bad news emanating from policing, has somewhat overshadowed more proactive work in the area of justice reform.
However, positive moves are afoot to promote more community-based sentences and a greater emphasis on prevention and rehabilitation, with preventive measures and closer collaboration with health services featuring in both the Scottish Government’s latest justice strategy and its delivery plan for 2017-18.
The Management of Offenders Bill, which was introduced to parliament in February and is currently at the committee stage, proposes a number of changes which will promote a preventative and rehabilitation-focused approach.
The bill will make possible a wider range of community-based monitoring schemes, including drug and alcohol monitoring and GPS tagging.
It also proposes reducing the length of time that criminal convictions have to be revealed for those given a prison sentence of between 30 months and four years.
With employment one of the keys to reducing reoffending, this could help to rehabilitate offenders and integrate them back into society.
It’s a year since the Community Justice Act came into force and the setting up of Community Justice Scotland, the agency that has responsibility for promoting community-based justice in Scotland, but that is just the start rather than the end of the work.
Karyn McCluskey, chief executive of Community Justice Scotland, welcomes the bill as well as the recent presumption against short-term sentences, but wants to make sure the focus remains on community-based solutions.
McCluskey says: “It’s dead easy for things like community justice to just go off the agenda because there’s so many big things like delayed discharge, and you know the challenge we have about providing care for the elderly, etc, that sometimes we can just be bumped off the agenda a bit.
“And [we need] to keep it first and foremost, because we’re talking about some of the most damaged, and sometimes damaging, people and they need to be supported differently if we’re going to be able to return them to any sort of state of wellbeing, that they can start to engage in society again.”
She mentions “really spectacular stuff” going on in a number of places including Aberdeen, Falkirk, North Lanarkshire and Edinburgh.
“The challenge is to try and scale that up, so we can manage much more people in the community,” she says.
McCluskey is positive about efforts to tackle homelessness and backs the Housing First model, as well as the move to integrate more with health and treat some of the root causes, such as drug and alcohol misuse, mental health problems and adverse childhood experiences.
“We’ve got places like LEAP, which is Lothian and Edinburgh’s Abstinence Programme, it is spectacular, I just couldn’t tell you. I mean, they’ve got something like a 76 per cent abstinence rate of five years. That is pretty bloody fantastic considering you’ve got people there who have really hardcore drug and alcohol problems when they go in. But I think that sort of thing really makes a difference.”
She adds: “If you look at the courts, drugs and alcohol will be at the absolute heart of it. Mental health is another one. We’re actually dealing with the same thing.
“As in health, when people are often committing low-level crime, they’re often very annoying because they’re committing lots of low-level crime but the genesis of it, and the way to solve it, to stop them reoffending, is to tackle some of their needs.
“So I mean for me, it’s a bit of a no-brainer. I hate to say that. It’s just it feels like a sensible approach.”
There is more to do in mental health, she says, with around 80 per cent of calls to Police Scotland relate to vulnerabilities.
“We’re just coming up to the end of a year. It has been a very hard year, I have to say,” admits McCluskey.
“If you could have solved this with one big thing, you’d have probably done it ages ago. But in truth… you need a thousand small sanities. There’s a thousand things you need to do to try and solve this.
“Nothing is ever solved by one big thing. You’ve got to have these small intercessions that make a difference to the big picture.”
There is much more to do, as Scotland’s high prison population shows, but McCluskey is determined to make a difference.
She concludes: “I’m just out of a meeting with Michael Matheson and he is absolutely determined that this has to work, so I feel massive pressure, massive pressure that this has to transform. It has to transform.”
Case study: Interventions for Vulnerable Youth (IVY)
One group that has been working specifically to prevent youth offending is the Interventions for Vulnerable Youth (IVY) service based at the Centre for Youth and Criminal Justice (CYCJ) at Strathclyde University.
Running for four years, it has so far helped 180 children aged 12-18, who pose a serious risk of harm to others.
The majority of them, around 80 per cent, have been in the care system at some point.
CYCJ chief executive Claire Lightowler explains: “The children that we see at IVY, they almost always have experienced some quite extreme trauma in their lives and the break-up of relationships is often part of that.
“Domestic violence is also a really highly occurring feature of the young people’s lives.”
She estimates this to be in the region of 65 to 75 per cent.
Lightowler continues: “Their behaviour is challenging, otherwise they wouldn’t have been referred to IVY, and that’s meant that often they’re extremely isolated children and not always liked and cared for and nurtured.
“And they’ve often experienced multiple different placements, multiple different care settings in which they’ve lived, as well as the trauma that they’ve brought in, then there is also this additional breaking down again of relationships.
“And obviously the children that we see at IVY, they’re there because they pose a risk to others, but also obviously because they pose a risk to themselves – these things are so closely related – so because of that, it’s often quite difficult for different kinds of settings, children’s homes, to keep both that child safe and other children safe in that context.
“It’s really difficult to hold on to relationships for that child and for those around them.”
IVY offers a tiered service that ranges from a consultation clinic for those working with the child to create a risk plan across services in a neutral space, to undertaking a detailed assessment directly with the child, to intervention, working alongside the child to help with their trigger points.
Many of the children turn out to have undiagnosed problems such as communication issues or autism and they also tend to fall between services because of their behaviour.
Lightowler says: “There’s an enormous gap in terms of services and resources specifically for children that pose a risk of harm to other people … it’s really complex work to keep in mind they’re a child, they’re a risk to themselves, they’re a risk to other people, it’s really quite a specialist skill set and knowledge...
So often we find that these children fall between a bit of a gap in traditional services and ways of thinking because it’s not a mental health need, it’s not an illness, it’s not requiring diagnosis.
There may be elements of that as well, but that’s not why they’re referred to IVY, it’s because of their behaviour, and so they can miss out on services and supports that look through that kind of illness lens and also in terms of social work interventions.
Social work tend to get involved when something has happened not necessarily, not usually, when there’s a risk of something happening, so again, there can be a bit of a gap there.”
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