The impacts of COVID-19 and lockdown have been felt across Scotland and its communities by disrupting criminal justice services. Reduced social contact, self-isolation and disruption of services has had a disproportionate effect on people who were already struggling with complex life circumstances. This includes people caught up in Scotland’s criminal justice system and their ability to access the support they need.
Restrictions needed to combat coronavirus have impacted on community justice sentencing and the delivery of community-based sentences. There is a backlog of orders relating to unpaid work and it has also been more challenging for individuals on orders to complete some of the other requirements that could be part of a Community Payback Order (CPO) such as supervision or service. Requirements that address offending behaviour and challenge people to see themselves differently.
Concerns have been raised by Social Work Scotland, the Scottish Association of Social Work and Community Justice Scotland that community justice services are at risk of being overwhelmed; that action is necessary to ensure existing orders can be delivered safely within a reasonable timescale and new orders can be started. Scottish Government analysis suggests there could be in excess of 1 million hours outstanding by July if no other action is taken.
However, during this time at Venture Trust we have continued to take referrals from criminal justice teams across Scotland in order to support them and play a part in working to alleviate the stress that has been put on Scotland’s community justice provision.
In the last 12 months though our criminal justice services we have worked with 262 new referrals.
74% of these referrals came from social work and at least 63% of referrals were on a CPO while 82% were on any court order including DTTO, Probation Order, Other.
Throughout lockdown and the period of gradual easing of restrictions, our front-line staff have used digital channels and when guidelines allowed a blended model to provide online and face-to-face personal development, wellbeing support, and employability support so participants could access training, education, and work opportunities. This intensive and sustained learning and development has been challenging individuals and helping them unlock the skills needed to address the underlying pressures and issues that got them involved in the justice system.
By seeing the potential in everyone and supporting them to reach their potential, we are building safer communities through our community justice services.
During the last 12 months, our evaluations continue to show the difference our criminal justice services are making:
84% of participants improved their ability to create goals and work towards them
84% of participants improved their ability to deal with challenge
79% of participants improved their confidence
70% of participants improved attitudes to negative behaviour
Prison is not a viable option to deal with the backlog of unpaid work and the disruption to accessing other community justice sentencing options. Evidence shows short prison sentences don’t work if the aim of sending someone to prison to rehabilitate them. They are enough to disrupt employment, medical care, housing, and family relationships, but not long enough to tackle the true causes of offending behaviour. People jailed for a few months come back out even further from finding a route out of crime than they were when they went in.
It is essential that a whole system approach that includes courts, justice sector agencies and third sector organisations continue to work together to divert more people away from the justice system. Our criminal justice service are part of this joined up approach.