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Review of the Glasgow and Fife Drug Courts: Report

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Findings

11. To a large extent there was a good deal of support for the work of the Drug Courts from both the Glasgow and Fife stakeholders. The following outlines the key themes arising from the stakeholder meetings.

The Therapeutic Court

12. Offenders referred to the Drug Court are often in a chaotic state with a long history of drug use and related offending. The assessment process carried out by the Drug Court teams aims to assess an individual's potential receptiveness and suitability for a Drug Court Order. The Drug Court is often viewed as the final attempt to break the habitual pattern of re-offending, which would otherwise lead inevitably to a custodial sentence. The accountability to the court throughout an Order and the sanctions available to the Sheriffs are considered effective tools in the motivation of offenders to comply with the drug treatment & testing programme.

13. All of the Drug Court Sheriffs felt that what they referred to as the 'weight watchers' effect was a powerful influence within the court. Having a separate court was particularly useful in this regard, as court scheduling could be used in such a way that would allow offenders to see others who were either succeeding on their Order or not doing so well. Starting the court with the review of a particularly successful individual allowed others to see that it is possible to change for the better. Commencing the review of an offender who had breached his / her Order, on the other hand, gave the Sheriffs the opportunity to send out a message about the seriousness of non-compliance. All the Sheriffs pointed out that such an effect could not be achieved with standard DTTOs as court scheduling would not permit this.

The Pre-Review

14. The Drug Court Sheriffs and CJSW and Addiction workers all considered the pre-review meeting to be the main strength of the Drug Court. The pre-review allows discussion between the professionals and gives the Sheriff an opportunity to discuss in detail progress or otherwise made by all those subject to Drug Court Orders. All those consulted felt that a standard DTTO report without an opportunity for multi-agency discussions was unlikely to be as effective. The Sheriffs in particular considered the pre-review discussion to be very useful, as it helped to guide their approach to the actual review hearing. The pre-review discussion allowed for a more frank and open exchange than could be achieved through the submission of a paper report as occurs with a standard DTTO.

The Dedicated Sheriff

15. The continuity of Sheriff and the specialist knowledge gained by these Sheriffs was considered a strength in the operation of the Drug Court. The Sheriffs stressed the importance of consistency in dealing with those on an Order which could only be achieved by use of dedicated Sheriffs. Inconsistencies in sentencing and in the use of sanctions would harm the credibility of the Drug Court Orders.

16. Continuity of Sheriff throughout an Order could be achieved with standard DTTOs outwith the Drug Court, although in practice in a busy court schedule this was considered to be more difficult to achieve. It was felt that the grouping of DTTOs and Probation Orders in the one court was a more efficient approach.

Treatment & Testing

17. A large part of the Scottish Government funding for the Glasgow and Fife Drug Courts is used to resource the dedicated treatment and testing team in each court. The agencies involved all agreed that the funding of these teams was a major factor in the effectiveness of the courts. The funding meant that caseloads were manageable, and that a range of treatments could be offered.

18. Stakeholders in Fife were of the view that the resourcing of the multi-disciplinary treatment team was one of the main advantages of the funding of the Drug Court in Fife. However, the multi-agency nature of the treatment team had given rise to issues in Fife, with earlier reported differences of approach between Fife Council Criminal Justice Social Work and NHS Fife about treatment philosophies.

These issues were subsequently resolved to the satisfaction of all parties.

19. It was reported that the Drug Court funding allowed the treatment team to have greater contact time with offenders, including home visits and groupwork. However, the benefits of this increased contact time were merely anecdotal and little evidence was available to demonstrate that it was necessarily having a positive impact.

20. Some concern was expressed in Fife about, what was perceived as, limited funding available for drug treatment more generally in the area. It was suggested that it is necessary for drug users to escalate their level of offending behaviour in order to access drug treatment, as the Drug Court treatment services are better resourced than any other. Some of those consulted were keen to see similar funding made available for other users in the Fife area, as well as for those on DTTOs in the wider Community Justice Authority area. Others were of the view that although limited funding is available for drug treatment in Fife, the use of easy access /drop- in clinics Fife wide enabled service users to access treatment as required.

21. In Glasgow, on the other hand, the fact that there is already a considerable network of well-resourced drug treatment services across the city meant that funding of the Drug Court treatment services did not feature so highly in the discussions. It was reported that around 90% of those coming to the attention of the Drug Court were already known to the drug treatment services in the Glasgow area. The stakeholders involved, however, considered that the existence of the dedicated Drug Court treatment and testing team meant that those on Orders were given an intensive intervention programme, which along with the accountability to the court, meant a more effective approach. It was felt that the voluntary nature of other drug treatment initiatives such as Arrest Referral risked high drop out rates.

22. Nevertheless, it was suggested that operational improvements could be made, and in particular that there needed to be better co-ordination of the various schemes targeting the drug-using population in Glasgow.

23. More generally, concern was expressed about the length of Drug Court Orders which, it was suggested, are not long enough to establish real, long-term change in the drug user. It was also reported that alcohol misuse is increasingly a problem for those on Drug Court Orders. It was noted that both Drug Courts were offering programmed interventions to ensure that appropriate individuals also received clinical treatment for alcohol misuse/dependence.

Operational efficiency of the Drug Courts

24. The professionals involved with both Drug Courts felt that efficiencies could be made in the assessment process. On the one hand, it was recognised that this is a vital part of the process since it is important to identify those offenders who may be receptive to a Drug Court Order. However, on the other hand, it was felt by all involved that the assessment was unduly lengthy and staff intensive and this resulted in a delay in offenders accessing the court and its related treatment. Glasgow had already begun to explore ways of reducing staff time involved in the assessment and hoped to make efficiency savings in future. It should be noted that Glasgow Drug Court has recently implemented a new assessment process, which is aimed at streamlining the assessment process, reduce the time for preparation and reduce the barriers for offenders in accessing the Drug Court.

25. The Glasgow Drug Court professionals were keen to stress the efficiencies achieved of frequently dealing with prolific offenders in one court. In both Drug Courts, cases are 'rolled up' so that individuals appearing in court often have numerous outstanding charges dealt with simultaneously. Also, once subject to a Drug Court Order any outstanding warrants or complaints against an individual are dealt with by the Drug Court Sheriff and are not required to be heard in other courts. One difference between the two Drug Courts, however, is that those deemed unsuitable for a Drug Court Order in Glasgow are sentenced by the Drug Court Sheriff, whereas in Fife the offender is referred back to the original Sheriff for sentencing. This may result in more efficient operation in Glasgow than in Fife.

DTTOs

26. All stakeholders were asked their views on whether they thought a standard DTTO could achieve similar results to the Drug Court. The majority felt that the existence of the pre-review in the Drug Court made a significant impact on the responsiveness of the Order. In particular to the progress or otherwise being made by the offender. Both Drug Courts dealt from time to time with DTTOs from outwith their areas and the Sheriffs considered that the reports submitted by the non-Drug Court treatment teams lacked the quality and depth of the reports prepared for the Drug Court Orders. It was felt that the close working relationship established between the dedicated Sheriffs and the dedicated treatment teams led to more effective working practices and greater understanding between all parties. The close working relationship between the dedicated Sheriffs and the dedicated supervision and treatment team in Glasgow is enhanced by the four weekly multi-disciplinary Drug Court meetings chaired by the Drug Court Sheriffs. This provided the opportunity to discuss and review procedures and practice and identify and implement service development.

27. In practical terms with respect to court programming, the Drug Court was seen as advantageous in that all the reviews would be dealt with by dedicated Sheriffs in one court hearing. This was especially true for the Glasgow court where it was felt that the timetabling for individual Sheriffs to carry out DTTO reviews on the Orders they had made would otherwise prove problematic.

28. The use of Structured Deferred Sentences in Glasgow Drug Court has been a significant development as it has made it possible to include offenders who may not have previously met the criteria for the Drug Court, including women offenders. It also provides an opportunity to include offenders who would benefit from the Drug Court but whose motivation and/or ability to comply with the robust conditions of a DTTO is in question. In these circumstances, Structured Deferred Sentences can be used to monitor motivation and the offender's ability to comply with this rigorous court Order.