Positive changes ahead for Scottish justice

Positive changes ahead for Scottish justice

This week has seen two key pieces of legislative change from Scottish Government passed by Parliament. These were the Management of Offenders Bill and the extension of Presumption Against Short Sentences (PASS) from three to twelve months, coming in to effect as early as summer 2019.

With 12% of the prison population currently serving sentences of 12 months or less, and following our consultation response on PASS, we welcome this move from the Scottish Government as the changes present an opportunity make a lasting difference to the lives and families of those touched by the justice system and create more inclusive and progressive society.

Our colleagues – who support around 700 people a year on release from prison and have over a decade of experience – tell us that short term sentences can have a disproportionate impact on lives.  When someone is sentenced to a short sentence of four or five months, family ties, housing, employment and links to vital services are all too often negatively impacted.

These essential hygiene factors of life in the community are easily lost, but hard to remedy on release from prison – causing further trauma to the individual, risking increased offending in the community, and adding cost the public purse. Our colleagues tell us this daily.

A presumption, not a ban

Of course, PASS is not a ban on short term sentences and sheriffs still retain the option of short custodial sentences.  The judiciary are rightly independent and there will be instances where a custodial sentence is the most appropriate course of action.

There will also be cases where an appropriate alternative to custody will provide a compelling path to rehabilitation and PASS encourages sheriffs to seek those alternatives.  During the debate on PASS, we heard from Sheriffs that they need to know what alternatives are available to them, and to have greater confidence in them.  There is a need for public and third sector organisations to work closely to provide the judiciary with appropriate alternatives to custody that sheriffs can be confident in.

Providing sufficient support to people in justice

With both PASS and Management of Offenders Bill looking to Community Payback Orders (CPOs) to provide viable alternatives to custody, thought needs to be given to how those customers are supported.  There are many good examples of public and third sector support services which can help those serving community sentences.

Our experience of leading Scotland’s largest Public Social Partnership in justice – New Routes mentoring – as well as being a delivery partners for Shine Women’s Mentoring gives us a unique insight into the impact of wraparound support and guidance.  For example, 83% of customers on New Routes state an improvement in at least one area of development and in over half the cases, customers cite their mentor are the single most important factor in their improvement.  That’s why fewer than 10% of customers who keep working with us return to prison within a year of release.

Let’s talk

If you’d like to chat more about the work we do or you think we could work together to reduce offending and divert people from custody, get in touch.

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