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Scotland's Choice Report of The Scottish Prisons Commission


Annex C: Highlights of Selected Commission Visits

Liverpool Community Justice Centre

The Commission visited the Liverpool Community Justice Centre on 21 February 2008.

At this Centre, the aim is to tackle the causes of crime in the area, as well as dealing with the crimes themselves. They serve 80,000 people living in the local authority wards of Anfield, Everton, County and Kirkdale.

The Community Justice Centre, officially opened in October 2005, combines the powers of a courtroom, run by Judge David Fletcher, with a range of community resources, available to all North Liverpool residents as well as victims, witnesses and offenders. The Centre deals with problems with anti-social behaviour and cases involving 'lower level' crimes committed in North Liverpool that affect quality of life for local people, such as vandalism and graffiti.

The Judge has a range of powers and can sentence offenders in a way that benefits the community, although he can also issue custodial sentences where appropriate and necessary. He works with a 'problem solving' team of experts drawn from a range of agencies, such as the Crown Prosecution Service, Probation Service and Youth Offending Team, together with specialists providing advice and support on drug and alcohol issues, housing and debt. He can also offer support to offenders from volunteer mentors, able to provide practical support in carrying out their sentence and achieving their longer term goals.

Together they aim to make sure offenders repay their debt to the local community, while at the same time addressing the underlying issues that contribute to their offending. The team may make recommendations for extra support such as a drug treatment programme, or debt counselling, either through the centre or at other locations.

The Judge takes a personal interest in offenders and meets them for regular reviews while they are carrying out their sentence, where it involves a community penalty such as an unpaid work order.

Key findings for the commission

  • The Commission was impressed that the Judge can interact with the 'problem solving' team so that sentences are immediate, meaningful and can be spelled out to defendants as soon as possible in the criminal process.
  • It was impressive how the Judge could monitor offenders on community sentences by regular and rigorous review hearings, and in the event of a break down of the sentence, take immediate steps to return offenders to court.
  • The Commission was impressed by the fact that all the key agencies which comprised the 'problem solving' team were housed in the same building ensuring that proactive liaison between them was immediate resulting in speedy outcomes compared to the Scottish system. The problem solving ethos that permeated the Centre was particularly impressive.
  • Although the Judge and his team are committed to listening and responding to the views of residents to identify and understand their concerns they admitted that they have faced some difficulty in terms of fully engaging the community due to the 'grass' culture which is prevalent in the area which the Centre serves. Nonetheless, they hold regular meetings with two reference groups representing local residents, businesses and young people, to help them decide priorities for the work the centre tackles.
  • The Centre's overall aim is to reduce crime and build confidence in the criminal justice system. While the Commission was impressed by the Centre it was difficult to assess how far they had come in achieving those aims given that no formal evaluation of their success had taken place as yet.
  • There was a refreshing overall sense of enthusiasm from all the agency workers housed in the Centre to view their role as working for the Judge rather than solely their own particular organisation.

Visit to Ireland

The Commission had a successful visit to Ireland in April when Members of the Commission had informative discussions with a number of officials from the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, the Irish Prison Service, the Irish Probation Service and the Irish Youth Justice Service.

The members also had the opportunity to meet Judge Michael Reilly, Inspector of Prisons, and Judge Mary Martin, Chair of the National Commission on Restorative Justice.

The Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform fulfils a number of responsibilities in relation to prisons policy including:

  • ensuring that the Irish Prison Service supports the aims and objectives of the Minister and the Government in relation to the management of offenders.
  • ensuring that the regulatory framework which governs the operation of the Irish prison system is kept up to date.
  • encouraging best practices, including appropriate mechanisms of accountability for the Irish Prison Service.
  • promoting community safety through the effective management of offenders, in accordance with the law, sentences and sanctions issued by the courts.

Key Irish Prison Stats 2006:

  • Total Expenditure - â'¬389m
  • Staff - 3,140
  • No. of Institutions - 14
  • Average daily prisoner population - 3,191
  • Committals - 12,157
  • Cost of keeping an offender in custody - â'¬91,700

The Children Act 2001 makes it illegal to order the detention of a child (with effect from 1 March 2007) under 18 years to a prison. In addition, the Act has been amended so that:

  • responsibility for detention schools has been transferred from the Minister for Education and Science to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform;
  • the detention school model i.e. an individualised model of care and reintegration will be extended to include 16 to 17 year olds.

St. Patrick's Institution accepts sentenced and remand 16 to 21 year old males on committal from the courts and on transfer from other prisons. The Irish Youth Justice Service is undertaking a capital development programme for new detention schools - on completion all 16 and 17-year-olds will be removed from St Patrick's Institution and will become the responsibility of the IYJS. At the time of the Commission's visit there were around 200 young people in St Patrick's - 21 under 16 and 46 under 17.

Alternative sanctions

Those that we met suggested that there is no excessive use of imprisonment as a sanction in Ireland. Of the 120,000 or so convictions in its criminal courts in 2006 less than 10% resulted in imprisonment. The courts appear to make liberal use of alternative sanctions including fines, community service, probation and suspended sentences. In saying that, the timing of physically being placed on a community disposal was similar to the Scottish system - it could range from a few weeks to a few months.

The Irish Youth Justice Service, set up in 2005, funds organisations and projects providing services, including Police and Probation Projects, to young people aged under 18 years who find themselves in conflict with the law. Their remit is to improve the delivery of youth justice services and reduce youth offending. This challenge is met by focussing on diversion and rehabilitation involving greater use of community based interventions and the promotion of initiatives to deal with young people who offend. Providing a safe and secure environment for detained children and supporting their early re-integration back into the community is also a key function.

It was acknowledged that prisoners serving less than 12 months exhibit very limited improvement in terms of rehabilitation as opposed to long-termers. 75% of sentences were for less than 1 year. Irish Prison Service staff believed that you need at least 4 years to make a positive difference in terms of an offender's behaviour. They are in the process of rolling out a pilot 'Integrated Sentenced Management' which is similar to the Integrated Case Management system run by SPS.

Like Scotland there is a large problem in terms of alcohol/drug abuse with offenders in Ireland. Ireland's prison population also has growing problems in terms of mental health issues, especially the female prison population.

Key findings for the Commission

  • The Commission was impressed with the decision to bring in legislation which meant that no child under 18 would be detained in prison.
  • They also found the notion appealing to establish something akin to the Irish Youth Justice Service.
  • The Commission was impressed how the courts appear to make liberal use of alternative sanctions to custody, particularly the suspended sentence.
  • In Ireland the prison you're sent to is primarily dictated by your family circumstances (location etc). This does not always happen in Scotland and it appealed to the Commission.
  • In terms of community disposals the Commission was impressed by the fact that probation workers would ensure that offenders would keep to their appointments etc, by going to their accommodation to encourage them to attend.

Visit to New York

The Commission visited three projects in New York in April; the Midtown Community Court, the Red Hook Community Justice Centre and Bronx Community Solutions. The Commission also had the opportunity to meet with Chief James Tuller, a Commanding Officer of the NYPD, to discuss policing history/developments within the city.

Midtown Community Court

Launched in 1993, the Midtown Community Court targets quality-of-life offences, such as prostitution, illegal vending, graffiti, shoplifting, fare-beating and vandalism. Typically in these cases, judges are forced to choose between a few days of jail time and nothing at all - sentences that fail to impress the victim, the community and the defendants that these offences are taken seriously. In contrast, the Midtown Community Court sentences low-level offenders to pay back the neighbourhood through community service, while at the same time offering them help with problems that often underlie criminal behaviour. The Court works in partnership with local residents, businesses and social service agencies in order to organise community service projects and provide on-site social services, including drug treatment, mental health counselling, and job training.

The Court aims to 'make justice visible' by making offenders doing community service wear bright blue vests, etc. Offenders at Midtown pay back the community through visible community service projects - painting over graffiti, sweeping the streets, and cleaning local parks.

The court also aims to 'make justice swift'. Immediate sentencing sends the message to offenders that crime has consequences and that they will be held accountable for their actions. Offenders often begin their sentences within 24 hours of appearing before the judge. The Court's compliance rate is 75 % for community service which is the highest in the city.

Previously community sentences were solely issued by the criminal courts in Manhattan at a rate of 29%. Since the Midtown Community Court opened this has risen to 69%. In conjunction with aggressive law enforcement and economic development efforts, the Court has had an impact on neighbourhood crime: prostitution arrests dropped 56% and illegal vending is down 24%.

Red Hook Community Justice Centre

The Red Hook Justice Centre, launched in 2000, seeks to solve neighbourhood problems like drugs, crime, domestic violence and landlord-tenant disputes. At Red Hook, a single judge hears neighbourhood cases that under ordinary circumstances would go to three different courts - Civil, Family and Criminal. The goal is to offer a coordinated, rather than piecemeal, approach to people's problems. The Red Hook judge has an array of sanctions and services at his disposal, including community restitution projects, on-site educational workshops, drug treatment and mental health counselling - all rigorously monitored to ensure accountability and drive home notions of individual responsibility.

The courthouse is the hub for an array of unconventional programs that engage local residents in 'doing justice'. These include mediation, community service projects that put local volunteers to work repairing conditions of disorder and a Youth Court where teenagers resolve actual cases involving their peers. The idea here is to engage the community in aggressive crime prevention, solving local problems before they even come to court.

Bronx Community Solutions

Bronx Community Solutions is an initiative that seeks to apply a problem-solving approach to non-violent cases in the Bronx. Its goal is to provide judges with increased sentencing options for non-violent offenses such as drug possession, prostitution and shoplifting. By combining punishment with help, Bronx Community Solutions seeks to reduce the Bronx's reliance on expensive and ineffective short-term jail sentences, and build public confidence that the system is holding offenders accountable and offering them the assistance they need to avoid further criminal conduct. The project, the largest of its kind, is the nation's most ambitious experiment in going to scale with problem-solving justice.

Rather than the Midtown or Red Hook set-ups where they have their own separate community court Bronx Community Solutions is run from within the Bronx's actual criminal court. All judges in the Bronx have a broad set of sentencing options at their disposal, including drug treatment, job training, family services and mental health counselling. Offenders will be assigned to community service work in neighbourhoods throughout the Bronx. Project staff will work with residents and community groups to create community service options that respond to local problems.

Key findings for the Commission

  • The immediacy of the overall community court system. Offenders can be sentenced by the Judge to a community disposal and directed to the community service team (within the same building) to start it. This can take a matter of minutes.
  • Visibility of community service. Offenders are seen 'paying back' to their communities for their offending behaviour.
  • The range of options and disposals available to the Judge.
  • The swiftness and effectiveness of the sentencing process. The Judge sits with access to a screen divided into 4 sections:

1. Lists the complaint/offence.

2. Lists the offender's previous convictions/outstanding warrants.

3. Lists the social needs of the offender - housing, addictions, etc.

4. Advice from the Resource Coordinator on what they think should happen to the offender.

This contributes to the swiftness in sentencing without the judge having to plough through reports or request further reports.

  • The rise and effective use of viable community alternatives in terms of both the offender and the public.
  • The overall reduction in crime in New York through the 'Broken Windows' and CompStat approaches.
  • There is a high level of public confidence in the system. Before Red Hook opened, only 11% of residents had a positive view of the court system compared to recent surveys indicating that over 70% express approval of the Justice Centre.
  • In a survey of 500 Midtown residents conducted 2 years after the court opened, 56% said they'd be willing to pay more taxes for a community court.

Visit to Finland

The Commission visited Helsinki on 6-7 June and met with officials from the Ministry of Justice in Finland, the National Institute of Legal Policy, the Probation Service, the Criminal Sanctions Agency, the Prison Service, the Police and the Ministry of the Interior. The Commission also visited Suomenlinna Open Prison where they had the opportunity to talk to offenders.

The Commission found the Finnish principles of imprisonment fairly liberal in that it should only include the loss of liberty. There is no mention of 'punishment' or 'deterrence' within their legislation unlike in Scotland. The conditions in prisons are arranged so that they correspond to living conditions in society - work, housing etc - they aim to maintain a 'normality principle'. Indeed, at the open prison on Suomenlinna offenders were paid around â'¬200 per week to carry out stone masonry.

The goal of the enforcement of imprisonment is to reduce recidivism and increase the prisoner's ability to lead a life without crime by promoting the prisoner's life control and resettlement into society. It also aims to prevent committing new crimes during the sentence. There appears to be a notion that in order to tackle violent crime you need social interventions.

Sentence plan

With the exception of very short sentence prisoners, a sentence plan is drawn up for each prisoner in Finland which covers allocation, activities, prison leaves and conditional release. It covers the whole prison term and also the parole period. By observing the plan the prisoner will gain certain benefits/incentives, e.g. transfers to the open estate, prison leaves, allocation to an institution outside prison and early release under supervision. In terms of conditional release:

  • first timers are released after half of their sentence;
  • reoffenders are released after two thirds of their sentence;
  • If the offence is committed under age 21 the offender is release after serving one-third.

Front and back door

Both 'front and back door' strategies are used in Finland. 'Front door' strategies include the increased use of alternatives to unconditional imprisonment, for example community service and electronic monitoring. 'Backdoor' strategies include early release and conditional release. If an offender who breaches his community sentence conditions is sent to custody he or she will receive further conditions on his or her release from prison.

Juvenile justice

Juvenile justice has also been liberalised. Criminals aged 15 to 17 can only be imprisoned for extraordinary reasons. Additionally, first time prisoners who have committed their crime before the age of 21 are released after serving just one-third of their sentence. Children under the age of 15 cannot be charged with a crime. Young offenders who have committed their crimes between 18 and 20 years of age can still be punished with a life sentence for a very serious crime such as murder but the sentence is routinely commuted and the prisoner released as early as 10 to 12 years into the sentence. Adult life sentence prisoners can be released after serving 12 years of their sentence. In practice a life sentence prisoner serves around 14 to 16 years in custody.

No political control

The absence of direct political control was critical to the Finnish transformation. Despite the enormous changes in Finnish criminal justice, crime has never been an important political issue with none of the major parties taking it on as their agenda. It seems that even Finnish victims of crime seem to be satisfied with that approach. Victims' organisations act as support groups, not political lobbies. Also, the media in Finland tend not to sensationalise crime stories. The majority of reporting is done through 'quality papers' whose line is sensible in the main. The tabloids are not taken too seriously.

Key findings for the Commission:

  • Bringing in legislation that directly focuses on reducing the prison population.
  • The liberal concept behind the role prisons should play - only loss of liberty, prisoners' rights, 'normality principle'.
  • The Commission was impressed with the power Finnish Judges have of commuting custodial sentences to community sentences.
  • Interesting concept of parole and the 'backdoor policy'.
  • The Commission was impressed by how Finland treats its juvenile offenders, especially the notion that you would only imprison someone between 15 and 21 if it was absolutely necessary.
  • The fact that crime is not a political issue and there appears to be cross-party agreement on the key issues and drivers.
  • Refreshing attitude of the Finnish media in terms of not sensationalising crime related pieces.

Visit to Falkirk Council Criminal Justice Service

Members of the Commission who visited Falkirk in May were immediately struck by the enthusiasm and drive of the entire Community Service team there. They witnessed a programme of activity which seemed to them to be more immediate and effective than is the case in other areas of Scotland.

In terms of the delivery and timing of community disposals, most people who receive Community Service Orders in Falkirk are actually starting work on them within a week. In addition, initiatives undertaken in conjunction with Falkirk College have led to the delivery of a service which not only benefits offenders but also the community itself. Courses such as 'Fresh Start' and the Construction Site Competence Scheme increase the opportunity for offenders to learn so that they can pursue and lead a life in which their offending will decrease or even stop altogether.

Thursday Court: Key to the effective disposal of CSOs in Falkirk is the fact that most are made on a Thursday at what is known as a 'Remand Court'. As soon as a person is sentenced to undertake a community sentence, the social worker present in Court instructs them when to attend, later in the day, at the Criminal Justice office, in close proximity to the Court.

There, the terms and conditions of Community Service Orders are explained to them in addition to any local arrangements. They are also given Health and Safety leaflets to read later before attending a Health and Safety course on the following Tuesday. They are also told on which day they will be required to attend for work - at least once a week. A further assessment of the risk of reoffending and harm will also be carried out at this first interview when a placement is also identified.

The building in which the Service operates is also shared with the offices serving Probation Orders, Drug Testing Treatment Orders and 'Fast Track', - Falkirk's means of administering the drugs conditions of Probation Orders. The benefits of having all these services co-located makes the supervision of Court Orders much more easily managed.

In recognition of the specific issues pertinent to women, a single sex group has been established in Falkirk to offer a safe, non threatening environment for women to offer each other positive support and to explore issues particular to them, to receive support and be taught new skills.

Getting qualified: A joinery workshop is available which offers basic woodworking skills and monies raised from the sale of any goods is given to local charities thereby enhancing the usefulness of the scheme to the community in general. This is backed up by an evolving publicity and information programme to raise the profile, in the Falkirk community, of the effectiveness of the scheme.

In order to allow offenders to gain recognisable qualifications which might help their employability, the Health and Safety qualification was expanded to include the Construction Site Competence Scheme which is now necessary for employment in the construction industry.

Fresh Start: To further the prospect of employability in a wider context, it was decided to establish three 10 week modules to address the needs of the service users, particularly relating to literacy and numeracy. Initially, these took place at the local Criminal Justice Office but have now been moved to the College campus.

The course was named 'Fresh Start' so as not to bring specific attention to this being a course for people on Orders of the Court. This also allowed clients to join the mainstream college, availing themselves of the facilities and opportunities there, and helped to break down barriers. As a result, some have now considered full time college courses once their Orders had finished. One person has moved to full time employment as a Phlebotomist, one has commenced a University Arts course and another is keen to undertake a Business Management course once his Order is completed. Additional benefits have been the increased confidence of the attendees and their enthusiasm to comply with the other, more work related aspects of their Orders so as not to jeopardise their college course.

All round support: Before all these developments were undertaken, liaison took place with the local Sheriffs through the bi-monthly Criminal Forum meetings hosted by the Sheriffs and attended by Criminal Justice Social Work, Sheriff Clerks, Procurator Fiscals, other court officials, solicitors and the police. These proposals were discussed and the view of the Sheriffs was open and encouraging thereby allowing the Falkirk Council Community Service Orders scheme to develop a different way of working, deviating from the strict interpretation of National Standards.

Local Sheriffs have given support to this and are also keen to support the Falkirk Council Community Service Orders scheme in other ways such as attending open days, and taking an interest in the work and placements undertaken. They have also adopted a 'recall' practice recalling to court at regular intervals those who are in breach of their Orders, to monitor progress. This has been experienced as positive and motivating for some service users.

The Falkirk Council Community Service Orders scheme also has a high presence at the National Community Service forum, which is open to all those working within Community Service Orders in Scotland. At the early meetings, it was evident that different areas had different practices and some focus was given to trying to use good practice from all the areas. A working party was established to look specifically at Health and Safety and one of the Falkirk Council Community Service Officers took a lead role on this. A folder was compiled with the practice from each contributing authority, so that others can locate which practice suits their scheme best and adopt this.

Key findings for the Commission:

  • Contrary to the mixed messages that the Commission had previously heard from other stakeholders about the delivery and timing of community disposals the Falkirk model seemed to be far more immediate and productive than is the case in other areas of Scotland.
  • The majority of people receiving Community Service Orders are starting their work within 7 days on average.
  • The Commission was impressed by the bi-monthly Criminal Forum meetings that were undertaken which included Criminal Justice Social Work, Sheriff Clerks, PF's other Court Officials, Solicitors, Police and the local Sheriffs.
  • Good examples of best practice abound ranging from the college 'Fresh Start' courses to the Construction Site Competence Scheme.
  • It was evident that there was a high degree of enthusiasm and drive from the entire Falkirk Community Service Team to deliver a service that would not only benefit offenders but also the community.
  • It was the first time the Commission had heard about the 'National Community Service forum' which was surprising given the nature of their deliberations.

218 Centre (Glasgow)

The Commission visited the 218 Centre on 13 May 2008.

The 218 Centre was established in Glasgow in August 2003 with the aim of providing a range of services for women in the criminal justice system primarily within the boundaries of Glasgow City Council. Based on a single site, the Centre provides a day service and supported accommodation. In addition to prescribing facilities, it offers support - residential or daily - for detoxification.

It provides residential and community based resources in a safe environment to women aged 18 years of age or over who have involvement in the criminal justice system, who are assessed as particularly vulnerable to custody or reoffending and who may have a substance misuse problem. The Centre is run by Turning Point, an organisation in the voluntary sector which provides support for those with complex social needs, particularly in relation to drug and alcohol issues.

218 is a service for women involved with the criminal justice system which is designed to address the root causes of women's offending. It offers programmes of care, support, and development designed to stop women's offending by tackling substance misuse and the trauma and poverty that drive it. 218 is regulated by Care Commission guidelines for day services for adults, and for residential services to people with drug or alcohol problems.

The objectives of 218 are to:

  • provide a specialist facility for women who are subject to the criminal justice system;
  • provide a safe environment for women in which to address offending behaviour;
  • tackle the underlying causes of offending behaviour;
  • help women to avert crises in their lives; and
  • enable women to move on and reintegrate into society.

Women from Glasgow can access 218 from the courts, from prison, or as part of a criminal justice order. They can be referred or can refer themselves as long as they have been in custody - even police custody - at some time in the previous 12 months. Any agency can refer women to the service. The purpose of 218 is to provide both diversion from prosecution and an alternative to custody.

Key findings for the Commission:

  • One of the significant attributes of 218 is the importance of providing a service able to deal with all the issues a woman may face, in one place. Workers from a range of disciplines (service managers, project workers, health professionals) are located together and required to work together as a team while retaining their own identity and working to the ethos of their own professional background.
  • The significant rise in alcohol abuse of service users presenting at the 218 Centre over the last 2 years.
  • The figures the Commission were shown (via a christo analysis) indicated that the 218 Centre was making a significant impact in helping women with a range of issues, particularly in terms of reducing their criminal involvement and drug/alcohol abuse.
  • Women who continue along the path of addiction and offending are likely to end up in custody if they fail to receive some sort of support. 218 has developed a model of intervention based on a recognition of the needs of women in the criminal justice system, which attempts to respond to those needs and in doing so, aims to tackle the root causes of offending behaviour.
  • The Commission were impressed by the enthusiasm of the 218 staff and their desire to deliver an effective and unique service. The 218 staff make a concerted effort to link services across a number of areas.
  • The service users that the Commission members spoke to actively praised the regime at 218 and believed it addressed their needs. Support was made available to enable women to address problematic substance use, from both health and addiction workers. This was viewed by service users and staff as a crucial component of the service.
  • The Commission were struck that given the apparent successes which the 218 Centre appears to deliver it was disappointing that it was the only project of its kind in Scotland.