Justice system approach to risk assessment – Ministerial statement

Statement given by Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Veterans Keith Brown to the Scottish Parliament, Edinburgh on Thursday 3 March, 2022.

Presiding Officer,

I would like to update Parliament on an issue affecting the Level of Service and Case Management System, also known as the LS/CMI system.

LS/CMI has been used since 2006 in Scotland as a paper based system, and the LS/CMI system has been used as an IT system in Scotland since 2010. It supports risk assessment and case management for individuals with a history of offending. The LS/CMI system is used as one part of a wider set of processes by social work and prison staff to inform a number of decision points within the criminal justice system including sentencing decisions, programmes access and prison release decisions.

In 2019 the system was centralised and as of 22 November 2021, all thirty two local authorities and the Scottish Prison Service, who previously each hosted the system locally, were migrated onto a centralised IT system.

The LS/CMI risk assessment tool is not the only risk assessment that is used within the Justice system. There are a number of different tools used for a variety of different types of offenders and this issue relates only to the LS/CMI risk assessment tool. There are a number of validated risk assessment tools to support and inform professionals in their decision making. That includes risk assessment tools specifically related to violent offending, sexual offending and intimate partner violence and stalking. 

In the prison environment for example, LS/CMI is used as one of a suite of risk assessment tools. The choice of risk assessment tool in this context is partly influenced by the nature of the index offence. The management of this assessed risk is governed by a multi-disciplinary team of professionals referred to as the Risk Management Team (RMT) which is chaired by a Prison Senior Manager supported by a range of professionals including but not limited to Criminal Justice Social Work, Psychologists, Health Professionals, Police Scotland, Local Authorities, Chaplaincy and Third Sector agencies. The challenge of assessing and managing risk draws together this diverse range of professions in the shared objective of protecting the public by preventing or minimising harm. A recurring theme in risk management practice is the need to balance the safety of potential victims with the human rights of the offender.  This multi-disciplinary approach  involving a range of professionals is also often used for managing individuals within the community setting. Risk assessment is dynamic and as you can see it is holistic in its nature –  it is never based on one assessment within the system.

I will explain in detail  the circumstances relating to two issues that have been identified, and outline the precautionary measures that have been taken at every step to ensure confidence in Scotland’s public protection arrangements are maintained.  I apologise in advance for the somewhat technical explanation around some of the factors at play. Given the importance of the issues it is right that we take this precautionary approach.

Following a call that was raised by a user at the helpdesk for the system in January of this year about a single case, the system issue was explored by the IT managed service provider for LS/CMI and by the Risk Management Authority – who both provide a helpdesk service for the system. That work sought to understand if this was an issue affecting just a particular user or if it was more widespread. Following those detailed investigations, it became apparent last week that this was an issue affecting other users of the system. Test scripts were immediately developed to identify affected cases.

The particular systems issue affects the display of information in the risk assessment part of the system. The numerical risk score value in some particular instances does not match the risk score level displayed by the system. A systems issue appears to be preventing any subsequent changes made to that risk level when new information has been entered.

As of this week, there were 103,394 assessments in total on the live system (individuals can have more than one assessment). There are approximately 24,000

“open” cases on the live system. An open case is one where there is some ongoing management of the individual in the justice system which requires use of LS/CMI. I am advised that from the work carried out over the weekend there were 1,317 assessments where the calculated score did not match the final risk need/level. Of those assessments affected, 1032 relate to closed cases and 285 relate to open cases.

The system has an ability for social work themselves to over-ride the risk level shown on the system, and of the 1032 closed cases there are 537 where an over-ride has been applied by social work. That’s the professional judgement being applied to a risk assessment. And that means there will be 495 of those closed cases which appear to contain a risk level affected by the system error. The remaining 537 with an over-ride applied will need a case by case review to determine if the over-ride superseded any error.

Officials have taken immediate action to review open cases that the justice system is still managing and I will say more about the review process shortly.

On Friday of last week my officials issued an immediate update to users of the system (justice social work principally but also SPS staff) making them aware of the issue and providing a temporary solution so that cases could be identified on the system and a form of over-ride applied.

Work is ongoing to identity the specific cases affected and on Tuesday my officials issued details of the open cases and locations of those cases to users of the system asking them to specifically review risk levels and scores and take any necessary actions. 

The action in those cases will have been for users of the system to determine if the risk level shown for the cases they manage was correct and to apply an over-ride if not. Users of the system were also asked to involve partners if there was any impact on the ongoing management of that individual within the justice system. My officials are assembling returns from users of the system as they do so and, to date, 150 returns have been received and no users of the system, social worker or SPS, have advised the Scottish Government of any public protection risk as a result of this systems issue and I think that’s worth repeating. No users of the system, social worker or SPS, have advised the Scottish Government of any public protection risk as a result of this systems issue.

Justice Social Workers, whether community or prison based, are trained professionals and will always apply professional judgement to every individual that they manage. The nature of risk assessment is holistic and wide ranging. It is not mechanistic or ever solely based on the LS/CMI risk assessment tool.

Further to this initial error that has been investigated as described above,  as part of that investigation,  previous change logs and helpdesk calls have been reviewed in parallel to explore any issues that interact with the systems issue. It seems only sensible to do that. It does appear from these investigations that there may be another area of risk scoring relating to alcohol /drug use that creates an error.  Whilst the extent of this is not known, it is clear that it may affect the risk score. The initial evidence on the system as presently reported indicates that the score is likely to be higher rather than lower i.e. to overstate risk rather than understate it. Given this second issue that has now been identified as potentially affecting cases, I have again, as a precautionary measure, and to ensure we take no risks with public protection issues, agreed the following actions:

(a) All Social Workers have been asked to review all  “open” cases on the following priority basis, by first looking at cases due for imminent consideration of release from prison, or for entry into MAPPA, or onto licence. 

(b) Justice Social Workers have been asked to move with immediate effect to the paper based system which is the agreed contingency plan around any system failure. Extensive support has been put in place from Community Justice Scotland around any immediate training implications, although other risk assessment tools within the system are paper based so this system will be familiar to many professionals within the system.

( c) We are also working with the IT company that manages the system and if necessary additional expert IT capacity will also be deployed to assist with what now needs to be a rigorous assurance process of every element of this system.

(d) I have convened a risk review group, which will be led by the Risk Management Authority, to work through as a matter of priority the open and closed cases to make an assessment of whether these errors will have had an impact on how that case was managed in the system. I should reiterate that this work is to provide further assurance, not because we are aware of any issues around management of offenders due to this issue. I am keen this work concludes swiftly and I am of course willing and eager to report back to Parliament on the outcome of that as soon as that group has concluded its work, or has initial findings that it is appropriate to share.

(e) In terms of further actions, officials have written out to other Justice Partners with an interest in these matters including Police Scotland, Parole Board, the Scottish Prison Service and the Scottish Children Reporter Administration. Officials have also written to victims’ organisations to ensure that they are sighted on this issue and can offer necessary reassurance around the work that’s currently in hand. If any of the Victims organisations would find it reassuring to meet with me so I am able to reassure them around the actions taken then I am of course more than happy to make that offer.

I have also today written to the Justice Committee to make them aware of this issue and will continue to update them as more information is known.

It is important to reiterate that as a result of this issue no concerns have been expressed by social workers both in the community and in prison around any offenders within the justice system. Our approach will always be precautionary and evidence based.

I am updating parliament about this issue to ensure openness and transparency but I do hope that the steps that have already been taken and the openness that we are dealing with the matter provides members with reassurance.

I do have confidence in the professionalism of our Justice and Health professionals who every day manage changing and evolving risk across a range of offenders. As has been explained, LS/CMI will never be the sole determinant of how the justice system deals with the risk of an individual – there is much more by way of judgement and process involved and will often involve a range of multi-disciplinary professionals, who are never just following what is displayed on the system.

I am very grateful to them all for their continued support in ensuring we retain confidence around how we protect the public from offending behaviour as we move forward from this.

I will as I have said Presiding Officer continue to update parliament on this matter as is appropriate.

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