Criminal justice social work statistics: 2020 - 2021

Mainly national-level information on criminal justice social work activity in Scotland in the first full year affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. Includes data on justice social work services and social work orders, as well as characteristics of the individuals involved.

This document is part of a collection

4 Court-based services and social work reports

(Tables 1 & 5, 6, 7, Chart 2)

4.1 There are various tasks associated with providing information and advice to the court. 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 difficulties 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. In addition, establishing if any pressing issues should be dealt with immediately, and informing individuals about the availability of relevant social work or other 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.
  • assessing the significance of any substance related issues, their relevance to the offending behaviour and its causes, and considering whether a specialist report is required.

4.2 During 2020-21, the courts made 3,400 requests for bail information, 40 per cent lower than the previous historic low of 2019-20 (Table 1). In some cases, bail information requests may result in the use of supervised bail rather than remand. A total of 250 bail supervision cases were commenced in 2020-21. Numbers had increased sharply in each of the previous two years but the fall of 48 per cent between 2019-20 and 2020-21 reflects the situation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Detailed information on bail supervision services can be found in the National guidance on bail supervision, which is currently under review.

4.3 Same day reports are either pre-sentence reports or specific sentence reports requested by the court. There were 1,500 such reports provided to the courts in 2020-21, down 58 per cent on the previous historic low of 2019-20 (Table 1). In 2020-21, there were 4,100 post sentence interviews with people remanded into custody or receiving custodial sentences for the first time. This had fallen in each of the previous four years but fell particularly sharply (73 per cent) between 2019-20 and 2020-21 as a result of impacts on court business arising from the COVID-19 pandemic.

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 (over 100 hours) unpaid work or other activity requirement
  • when imposing a drug treatment and testing order.

4.5 The number of CJSWRs submitted (including supplementary reports but excluding letters sent in lieu of reports) had been relatively steady over the period 2017-18 to 2019-20 but the lower volume of cases going through courts meant that the numbers inevitably fell between 2019-20 and 2020-21, by 41 per cent to 16,900 (Table 1).

4.6 The number of full CJSWRs (i.e. excluding supplementary reports) also fell by 41 per cent between 2019-20 and 2020-21 to 15,100 (Table 5). Eleven per cent of all reports were supplementary, a similar proportion to the last few years (Table 1).

4.7 Between 2019-20 and 2020-21, the total number of reports submitted has unsurprisingly decreased in all 32 local authority areas. Further information is provided in the additional datasets which accompany this publication.

Preferred sentencing options

4.8 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 identified needs. 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 difficulties 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.

4.9 Forty-six per cent of CJSWRs in 2020-21 recommended the use of a community payback order (Table 6). Twenty-three per cent recommended a CPO with supervision but not unpaid work, while ten per cent recommended unpaid work but no supervision. The proportion for unpaid work but no supervision was lower than in previous years which is likely to reflect awareness of the impact of necessary public health measures relating to the Coronavirus pandemic on the delivery of unpaid work. This included the suspension of face to face delivery of unpaid work for periods and lower capacity at other times.

4.10 In addition, 11 per cent of reports recommended either a deferred sentence of three months or more or a structured deferred sentence, with a further six per cent suggesting a monetary penalty. Custody was the preferred option in six 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). Eleven per cent of CJSWRs gave no preferred sentencing option.

4.11 The main outcome for 37 per cent of CJSWRs in 2020-21 was a community payback order (Table 7). Seven per cent of reports resulted in a CPO with unpaid work but no supervision, with 16 per cent resulting in an order with supervision but no unpaid work. In 14 per cent of cases, a CPO was given with both supervision and unpaid work.

4.12 Custody was the main outcome for 15 per cent of reports in 2020-21. The largest other main outcome categories in 2020-21 were deferred sentence and monetary penalty (nine and seven per cent of the total respectively).



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