National Strategy for Community Justice - review: consultation

This consultation seeks views as part of the review of the National Strategy for Community Justice.

6. Progress to date

Since the publication of the first strategy, the Scottish Government has had a sustained focus on prevention and effective community interventions, and a long standing commitment to encouraging a shift in the balance of sentencing practice in Scotland away from short-term custodial sentences to more community based disposals, where appropriate.

Thanks to the continued efforts of all statutory and third sector partners progress has been made on this over recent years, including the establishment of the new model of community justice, the extension of the presumption against short sentences and progress on embedding trauma informed practice.

A number of key points relating both to progress in this area and to aspects which have seen little significant change are noted below:

  • The sustained focus on prevention and effective community interventions has helped see Scotland’s reconviction rate fall to its lowest level since comparable records began more than 20 years ago.
  • The latest Reconviction Rates in Scotland data showed that the reconviction rate for individuals subject to a Community Payback Order (CPO) was 29.1% in 2017-18. This is the lowest rate since CPOs were introduced.
  • In 2019-20, 22% (16,296) of all convictions resulted in a main penalty of a community sentence - the highest proportion of convictions where community sentences were imposed in the past ten years and up from 14% in 2010-11. This is a 7% increase in the number from 15,211 in 2018-19. However, this primarily reflects a decrease in the proportion of convictions receiving a financial penalty, with the proportion of convictions receiving a custodial sentence changing very little over the last decade. At a high level there is little evidence of a change in sentencing behaviour in court towards community sentences since 2016/17 (before the new Community Justice model came into effect).
  • At a high level, there is no evidence of an increase in Diversion from Prosecution volumes since 2016/17 (before the new Community Justice model came into effect).
  • At a high level, there is some evidence of an increased use of Bail Supervision since 2017/18, though the volumes are still very small in the context of overall bail cases.
  • The presumption against short custodial sentences was extended from 3 months to 12 months in July 2019. Initial (pre-COVID) analysis indicates that there may have been a decline in the number of short sentences since the implementation of the policy. However, the impacts of COVID on the court system has made it impossible to isolate any real effects of the policy over time.
  • The reconviction rate for CPOs is lower than the reconviction rates for short custodial sentences. Between 2016-17 and 2017-18, the reconviction rate for CPOs decreased by 2.2 percentage points compared to 0.5 percentage points for short custodial sentences.

In addition to our assessment of progress, Community Justice Scotland holds a statutory duty to monitor the performance of each local authority in the achievement of nationally and locally-determined community justice outcomes. It also has powers to identify and promote good practice; provide advice, guidance and assistance to the community justice partners for the area of a local authority; and to make national and local improvement recommendations where appropriate.

The Act requires community justice partners for the area of a local authority to publish a Community Justice Outcomes Improvement Plan, setting out their priorities and planned actions, related to the national outcomes (as set out in the OPIF), and any other locally-determined outcomes. Community justice partners for each local area are also required to publish an annual report on progress towards achieving the outcomes in their Community Justice Outcomes Improvement Plan.

In relation to the performance in Scotland as a whole, Community Justice Scotland publishes the Community Justice Outcome Activity Annual Report, reflecting national progress, using the outcomes and indicators as set out in the OPIF. The most recent report was published in March 2021 and covers the reporting year from April 2019 to March 2020. The majority of the evidence collated is therefore drawn from the period immediately prior to the most substantial disruption associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.

The key findings were that:

  • in aggregate, progress towards outcomes is being made nationally, however there is a lack of consistent, comparable data available to evidence this at a national level, or to inform detailed needs identification and planning at a local level.
  • local arrangements vary regarding the delivery and quality of governance and accountability, leadership, and strategic planning.
  • there is a need for work at a local and national level to better contextualise community justice within the complex landscape of interlinked strategic priorities to support local planning and delivery of services.

Overall, progress has been made but there is clearly significant scope for change and improvement. As an example, the Audit Scotland report, ‘Community Justice: Sustainable Alternatives to Custody’, published in July 2021, sets out a number of issues and challenges within the community justice sector. These include areas for consideration around stakeholder involvement, geographical variation, factors influencing sentencing pathways and decisions, funding allocation for community justice partnerships, and ensuring that the outcomes of community sentences are clearly defined and that there is appropriate data to assess these outcomes. We will consider these alongside the Community Justice Outcome Activity Annual Report, evidence and views gathered as part of this review, in developing the new strategy.



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