Edinburgh Alcohol Problem Court
Sheriff Frank Crowe presides over the Alcohol Problem Court launched last year at Edinburgh Sheriff Court. Here he explains how it works and some of its recent successes.
A low cost, pilot Alcohol Problem Court has been operating at Edinburgh Sheriff Court since February, 2016. At present the Project has a capacity of 20 places for male offenders who are chronic alcoholics living in the Edinburgh area and involved in petty crime arising from their addiction. These cases are mostly at summary level although a few sheriff and jury cases form part of the caseload.
There are early indications of good results and the support offered by the Project has helped those on Orders reintegrate into the community and start realising their potential by carrying out voluntary work, training courses or returning to work.
About the Project
The criteria were drawn up in partnership with the City of Edinburgh Council Social Work Department and NHS Lothian. Since the scheme involves the supervision of offenders initially by one to one counselling and ultimately in a group setting, it was felt better to deal with women offenders via the Willow Project which can tailor courses to suit each individual referral.
Although the Edinburgh Sheriff Court area includes Midlothian and East Lothian, resources at present are limited to the Edinburgh City area at local hubs based at Craigmillar, Leith, Muirhouse and Wester Hailes. MELD, the Mid and East Lothian Addiction service caters separately for offenders living in the Dalkeith and Haddington areas and in some cases, I have made Community Payback Orders (CPOs) or structured deferred sentences tying into these resources. The offenders are selected from those displaying chronic alcohol problems or severe drinking problems arising out of regular binges. As a result the age range of the group is from mid-20s to 60s.
A total of 32 Orders have been made to date and 17 currently remain in force. Most Orders imposed are of 12 months duration although a few have been 6-9 months and, in the occasional case, 15 months. The Alcohol Order is imposed by me following a rapid assessment which can be done within 7 days, but must be carried out while the offender is at liberty.
How the Orders work
Likely cases are referred to me by colleagues, and if the assessment is suitable, a Community Payback Order is made, with supervision only and a strap line that the offender should “attend for alcohol counselling as directed by his supervising officer”. It is important to note that the Order is not an Alcohol Treatment Order of the type envisaged under legislation, but ultimately is of the same effect. The Orders are supervised by social workers who meet the offenders on a regular basis and compile reports for progress reviews held at 6 -12 week intervals in the Court. Social Work and addiction services meetings are held at local offices. Attendance is improved by the relative ease of attending a local office.
I preside over each court review to ensure continuity and have a brief progress report detailing attendance at sessions, changes in drinking patterns and lifestyle. The offender is represented by his solicitor but I discuss progress personally and ask how the offender feels he is doing.
Of the 32 Alcohol Problem Court Orders made, 8 have been completed successfully or concluded on a reasonably successful note and 17 cases are ongoing with progress continuing to be made by the offenders.
Seven Orders were brought to an early end through a combination of an unfortunate death; mental health issues; imprisonment and one successful early end through a managed deferred sentence.
In one case, the offender has a terminal diagnosis as a result of years of alcohol abuse, but the Order has assisted him at this difficult time and he continues to get support. In other cases, the offender has returned to work and /or resumed contact with family and children. In a number of these cases the offender has been moved on from homelessness to stable accommodation.
A more detailed assessment of the output of the Court is currently being undertaken by Social Work and NHS Lothian. Credit must be given to the workers from the charity, Lifeline, which has provided front line support to the offender. Unfortunately Lifeline entered into administration recently but staff transferred to the charity, Change, Grow, Live and the work has continued. Work also continues to operate under the Edinburgh and Midlothian Offender Recovery Service (EMORS). In general, the offenders have responded well to the front line addiction workers and either ceased or moderated their drinking and bad habits and this has led to significant reductions in offending.
The scheme has operated on a no cost / low cost basis using or adapting existing resources. By tightly managing the group and making them subject to regular court reviews, further offending has been reduced due to the workers tackling the underlying drink problems.