Community Justice Next Steps
The Council’s advocate member, Stephen O’Rourke, recently attended the Next Steps conference organised by Holyrood Events which focused on how community justice partners can work to reduce offending and strengthen communities. Here, he looks at the issues most relevant to sentencing.
Last November, the Scottish Government published a new national strategy for community justice, focusing on the delivery of services.
Community Justice Authorities have now been disbanded and replaced by a new, national model - Community Justice Scotland.
This model is based on a community approach as the most effective way to address re-offending. The strategy emphasises planning at the local level, invoking preventative community measures and community sentences rather than maintaining a reliance on community exclusion in the form of imprisonment.
It provides a series of measures to drive change and ensure accountability and introduces a national learning hub to promote best practice and innovation.
Against this backdrop, the Next Steps conference focused on the direction community justice should take in the future.
Speakers suggested that the prison population could be reduced through a greater use of electronic tagging and the further development of successful grassroots programmes such as the Violence Reduction Unit run by Police Scotland, the Willow Service and Turnaround.
And for those who are imprisoned, through-care work in terms of housing and family relationships was seen as essential in order to build resilience against re-offending.
There was a call for community justice partners to work together to challenge excessively negative messages which can sometimes be conveyed in relation to offenders. Speakers suggested a need to change social attitudes and send out the different message that individuals who have committed offences can still make a positive contribution to communities.
Another vital role was to change the behaviour of offenders who saw themselves as a product of the justice system.
Orkney was cited as having one of the lowest crime rates in Scotland. It has a small, rural population where few are anonymous. Some city authorities have been developing that close-knit element within their own local areas.
Community in Motion is an Edinburgh project based in the northeast of the capital where partner organisations work together to achieve more than they could alone. This includes neighbourhood groups and volunteer mentors who have themselves overcome offending behaviour.
Another programme, the Whole Systems Approach, was also showcased. Some of its core elements include:
- early intervention for low-level offences
- alternatives to prosecution
- court support
- better reintegration and transitions to and from the community.
As Community Justice moves towards a more national approach in Scotland, the Scottish Sentencing Council will continue to follow its development, along with the full range of sentencing options available, in order to best inform its guidelines.
The Council is currently working on its first guideline, the principles and purposes of sentencing, before moving to the offence-specific guidelines of death by driving and environmental and wildlife crime. For more information on our work, see our Business Plan.