New report discusses actions to increase judicial confidence in community sentences

Drawing on research and engagement carried out with sentencers and others, the Scottish Sentencing Council has published a paper highlighting obstacles to the use of community sentences and suggesting a range of actions which might improve judicial confidence in their use. The Council believes this is a significant piece of work which provides new insights into judicial perspectives of community sentences and how they are delivered in Scotland.

The Council’s engagement suggests that community-based sentences are generally viewed by sentencers as providing, in appropriate cases, a greater chance of rehabilitation than custodial sentences. However, some key themes emerged:

  • there is a perceived need for greater consistency across Scotland in the provision of community-            based programmes and services;
  • resource constraints are seen as impacting on the ability of justice social work to effectively monitor       and manage those who have received a community disposal;
  • some legislative and other processes can hinder the use and completion of community sentences;         and
  • there is a perceived lack of public awareness of, and confidence in, community disposals.

Some sentencers expressed a view that community-based programmes and services should be made available for a wider range of offence types and to address a wider range of issues. In particular, urban and more central areas are regarded as having greater provision than rural areas.

In some areas, the resources available to justice social workers in local authorities and NHS services - to support mental health treatment and addiction for example - are seen by some as insufficient for the purposes of providing adequate monitoring to support effective sentences.

Legislative barriers to the imposition of community-based sentences were also explored. The Council considers that thought should be given to potential legislative changes to enable greater flexibility to impose appropriate sentences. In addition, it believes that consideration should be given to improving breach processes, which, under current arrangements, can sometimes interrupt the successful completion of community orders, hindering progress towards rehabilitation. 

The Council is of the view that there is a lack of public awareness of, and confidence in, community disposals, and that relevant local and national organisations should carry out activity to enhance public understanding of what community sentences involve and what they can achieve. With a statutory duty to improve awareness and understanding of sentencing, the Council plans to examine in more detail public perceptions of community sentencing and to carry out activity specifically designed to improve awareness of community-based sentencing options.

It is intended to explore all of these matters further, in particular by examining in more detail public perceptions on the issue of community sentencing and carrying out activity designed to improve awareness of community-based sentencing options. 

The Council has separately submitted a response to the Scottish Government’s consultation on proposals for the establishment of a National Care Service and asking whether it should extend beyond adult social care to services such as justice social work and drug and alcohol services. While the Council has not taken a position on the establishment of a National Care Service - or its scope - it has drawn attention to the various issues relating to the delivery of community sentences revealed by its work in this area.

Lady Dorrian, Lord Justice Clerk and Chair of the Council, said:

“The engagement we have carried out suggests that one of the greatest challenges to judicial confidence in community-based disposals concerns limitations of resources to support their management and delivery.

“To support both judicial and public confidence and efforts to encourage rehabilitation and, ultimately, public safety, it is essential that effective community-based options are available to the courts. This requires greater consistency of provision of community sentences and the services which support their delivery across Scotland, and that these sentences can be robustly managed.

“We hope that drawing attention to issues in the use of community-based sentences and identifying areas for improvement will assist with further policy development and improved service provision and delivery.”