4 Court-based services and social work reports
4.1 There are various tasks associated with providing information and advice to the court, as well as a throughcare service to individuals and their families at the point when a custodial sentence is made. These include:
- oral/written reports and information at the court’s request on specific matters to inform the sentencing process or the decision to remand to custody rather than grant bail
- interviews with individuals and completing a medical mandate where significant medical issues have been highlighted
- diverting people with mental health problems who may be a risk to themselves from a custodial remand, to either hospital or appropriate bail accommodation, where available, for assessment
- interviewing individuals immediately after the court has passed a custodial sentence/remand or a community disposal involving criminal justice social work, in order to further explain the decision of the court and what this means for individuals. Also, establish if any pressing problems should be dealt with immediately, and inform individuals about the availability of relevant social work services
- forwarding relevant information to prisons in the event of a custodial sentence, including details on people who may pose a risk of harm to themselves and/or others
- representing the local authority criminal justice social work service in the court setting, including, where appropriate, court users' groups and liaising with other professional groups.
4.2 During 2017-18, the courts made 5,900 requests for bail information, the lowest number in any of the last seven years (Table 1). Numbers have fallen in each of the last three years and are now more than 30 per cent lower than the peak of 8,700 in 2012-13. In some cases, bail information requests may result in the use of supervised bail rather than remand. A total of 270 bail supervision cases were commenced in 2017-18, continuing the fall seen over the last six years. More detailed information on bail supervision services can be found in the National guidance on bail supervision.
4.3 Same day reports (previously called stand down reports) are either pre-sentence reports or specific sentence reports requested by the court. There were 4,200 such reports provided to the courts in 2017-18, around the same as in 2016-17 but maintaining a historic high (Table 6). Most of this increase can be attributed to the number of written reports doubling since 2013-14. In 2017-18, there were 18,200 post sentence interviews with people remanded into custody or receiving custodial sentences for the first time. The total number of interviews has fluctuated between around 18,000 and 20,000 in recent years.
Criminal justice social work reports
4.4 The criminal justice social work report (CJSWR) in its current format was introduced across Scotland from February 2011 to ensure a consistent provision of information, including the social worker’s professional assessment. This report is intended to assist in the sentencing process and to complement the range of other considerations, such as victim information and narratives from the Procurator Fiscal. In particular, the CJSWR provides information on social work interventions and how these may prevent or reduce further offending. A CJSWR must be requested:
- before imposing a custodial sentence for the first time or where a person is under 21
- when imposing a community payback order with a supervision requirement or level 2 unpaid work requirement (over 100 hours)
- when imposing a drug treatment and testing order.
4.5 The number of criminal justice social work reports submitted (including supplementary reports but excluding letters sent in lieu of reports) fell by six per cent between 2016-17 and 2017-18 to 28,400 (Table 1). This is part of a general drop of 22 per cent since 2011-12 and is broadly in line with an overall fall in court volumes over recent years.
4.6 The number of full CJSWRs (i.e. excluding supplementary reports) also fell in 2017-18, by five per cent to 25,700 (Table 7). Since 2011-12, numbers have fallen by 19 per cent. The number of supplementary reports submitted continued to be low, at 2,700 in 2017-18 (Table 1).
4.7 Chart 2 illustrates the patterns of change in full reports since 2011-12. The total number of reports per 10,000 population has fallen by 21 per cent since then. Patterns are similar for males and females but there are notable differences between age groups. Numbers per head of population have fallen by over a third for those aged 30 and under since 2011-12. The largest fall was among the under 18s, reflecting the marked fall in court volumes for this age group.
4.8 In 2017-18, there were around 73 CJSWRs submitted per 10,000 population (Table 3). This was highest for those living in East Ayrshire (137), Dundee City (133) and Clackmannanshire (124) and lowest for those living in Na h-Eileanan Siar (30), Orkney Islands (36) and East Lothian (37). The proportion for City of Edinburgh (39) was lower than for any of the other city council areas and almost half the rate for Scotland.
Chart 2: Number of criminal justice social work reports per 10,000 population by age and gender: 2011-12, 2014-15 and 2017-18
Note: Population aged 16 to 70.
4.9 Between 2016-17 and 2017-18, the number of reports submitted varied a little across local authorities, with around two-thirds showing a decrease in reports submitted and one-third showing an increase. Further information is provided in the additional datasets which accompany this publication.
Preferred sentencing options
4.10 The criminal justice social work report writer is expected to provide a professional assessment as to the suitability of available sentencing options in terms of maximising the opportunity for the individual to change their behaviour and desist from offending. This analysis is based on the individual’s attitude to offending and motivation to change, as well as risks and needs identified. While the decision on sentencing is for the court to take, the expectation is that the professional analysis will cover substantive issues such as the need for specialist assessment where significant substance use or mental health problems are indicated. There is also the expectation that the report will include an assessment of the suitability or otherwise of the community payback order, including the individual’s motivation to successfully complete the order.
4.11 Forty-six per cent of CJSWRs in 2017-18 recommended the use of a community payback order (Table 8). Eighteen per cent recommended a CPO with supervision but not unpaid work, while 15 per cent recommended unpaid work but no supervision.
4.12 In addition, 11 per cent of reports recommended a deferred sentence of 3 months or more and five per cent suggested a monetary penalty. Custody was the preferred option in five per cent of reports, while 20 per cent suggested some other form of sentence (including a restriction of liberty order or deferment for a drug treatment and testing order assessment). Twelve per cent of CJSWRs gave no preferred sentencing option.
4.13 The main outcome for 42 per cent of CJSWRs in 2017-18 was a community payback order (Table 9). Twelve per cent of reports resulted in a CPO with unpaid work but no supervision, with 13 per cent resulting in an order with supervision but no unpaid work. In 17 per cent of cases, a CPO was given with both supervision and unpaid work.
4.14 Custody was the main outcome for 16 per cent of reports in 2017-18. This proportion has shown a very slight but steady fall over the past five years. The largest other main outcome categories in 2017-18 were deferred sentence and monetary penalty (8 and 6 per cent of the total respectively).