National Strategy for Community Justice

This strategy provides a shared vision to help partners and communities work together effectively to improve community justice outcomes.

6 Equal Access to Services

The Community Justice (Scotland) Act 2016 places duties on statutory partners who have a key role to play in improving community justice outcomes.

We will drive improvement in the following areas:

  • Collaboration and co-ordination between both statutory and non-statutory partners at a national and local level.
  • Effectively managed person-centred transition where the needs of individuals are assessed and addressed.

"We want to set out a vision of community justice where people are held to account for their offending but thereafter supported to be active and responsible contributors to their communities. This implies a willingness and collaboration from all society and non-justice partners to support successful reintegration back into the community." [10]

Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Michael Matheson MSP, Report of the Ministerial Group on Offender Reintegration, Scottish Government, 2015

Reoffending is a complex social issue and an individual's likelihood of desistance can be significantly affected by structural factors such as timely access to housing, health and wellbeing, financial inclusion and employability. Furthermore, people who have committed offences may present complex and multiple needs, or require support in order to engage effectively with necessary services.

Victims of crime and families can also face a number of barriers to accessing services including stigma, a lack of information about services, transport challenges and a lack of available services. In some instances, these groups may be ineligible to access particular services due to restrictive criteria such as geographical boundaries or level of crisis.

The Community Justice (Scotland) Act 2016 places duties on statutory partners who have a key role to play in improving community justice outcomes. However, to fully address these complex factors will require the involvement of a much broader range of partners beyond the justice sector. This support can be particularly crucial when people move from custody back to the community. Many different public, private, third sector and community bodies must collaborate and co-ordinate effectively to support people who have committed offences and their families. Some will have more prominent roles than others, for example NHS Boards have overall responsibility for the health of their populations.

The Scottish Government believe that people who have committed offences and their families should have equal access to the services that will help them desist from offending. Whether at the point of arrest, in receipt of a community or custodial sentence, or during transition back to the community, we must ensure we get the basics right so that people's needs are addressed.

Complex Needs to Address

Collaboration and co-ordination between both statutory and non-statutory partners at a national and local level


"Prisoners who have problems securing accommodation on their release are significantly more likely to reoffend than those individuals who do not face these challenges."

Preventing Homelessness and Reducing Reoffending - Insights from service users of the Supporting Prisoners; Advice Network, Scotland, Shelter Scotland, 2015

Access to suitable housing is a fundamental aspect of any individual's effort to desist from offending, fulfil requirements on community sentences or reintegrate back into the community after a custodial sentence or release from remand.

Housing should be safe, timely and appropriate to the person's needs as well as taking victim safety into account, especially where the offender and victim are known to each other, for instance in cases of domestic abuse. The absence of such housing can prevent an individual from accessing other services, undermine any support they have received and increase their likelihood of reoffending. Those who are offered suitable accommodation are more likely to have positive outcomes in other areas of their lives such as health, employment, education, financial inclusion, families, relationships and social links within their communities.

Housing providers must consider the housing needs of all people that apply to them, including people in receipt of community sentences and those in custody. Recent research has highlighted that the earlier action is taken, the more likely it is that suitable accommodation will be in place before an individual leaves custody and homelessness can be prevented. [11]

Better joint working and information sharing between statutory housing providers and other third sector organisations is vital to ensure the coordination of 'wrap-around' support for individuals. Collaborative approaches including regular communication between social work teams, statutory housing providers and other third sector advice and advocacy support have been shown to identify better housing outcomes. [12]

To improve access to housing, community justice partners, including SPS, Housing providers and the third sector should:

Facilitate the early assessment of individual housing need on entry to custody and begin addressing these collaboratively at the earliest opportunity in order to maximise positive housing outcomes and prevent homelessness for people leaving custody.

Develop multi-agency protocols with local housing providers and third sector organisations in order to ensure the needs of those who have committed offences are identified and addressed and to ensure consistent access to suitable accommodation at all stages of the criminal justice process.

Health and wellbeing

There are cyclical links between inequalities, offending, becoming a victim, fear of crime and poor health. Improving people's physical and mental health outcomes is not just a worthwhile end in itself, but can also help to reduce and prevent further offending. [13]

Those who have been in the criminal justice system often experience higher rates of premature death - related to violence, accidents and suicide - than the rest of the population, and are more likely to face problems with mental health or substance misuse.

In addition to this, continuity of care can be particularly challenging as people transition between community, custody and back to the community.

It is also important that victims of crime have access to the specialist health services they require.

To improve health and well-being, community justice partners, led by NHS Boards should ensure that:

Every contact in the community justice pathway should be considered a health improvement opportunity. Partners should work in collaboration to ensure that individuals have access to essential health services, substance use, and specialist mental health services from point of arrest onwards and to ensure continuity of care following a community/custodial sentence or remand.

Financial inclusion

In general, people who have committed offences, their families, and victims of crime, come from and return to deprived areas of Scotland where the most financial poverty and educational exclusion exist. At all points of the community justice pathway, individuals will typically be dependent on welfare and benefit payments to support themselves. 14 Consequently, early assessment of financial issues is crucial.

For example, following the abolition of UK Government's discretionary Social Fund, the Scottish Government established the Scottish Welfare Fund ( SWF) in April 2013. Based on national guidance, the SWF is delivered through Local Authorities. The fund is an essential source of support for prison leavers to help their reintegration into the community. It can help provide clothes and basic items of household furniture (Community Care Grants) and living expenses in an emergency (Crisis Grants). Guidance was published in 2015 to ensure there was consistency of approach in delivery of the fund across local authorities. [15]

From 1 April 2017, Scotland will have the power to design and deliver its own employability services for disabled people and those at risk of long-term unemployment. This should be seen as a key opportunity to develop services for relevant groups, including the specific needs of people who have committed offences and their families.

To improve financial inclusion, community justice partners should work together to:

Improve access to financial and welfare advice services for people who have committed offences, families and victims of crime.


Helping to support the development of employability skills as well as encouraging involvement in training and lifelong learning should be a key priority both as part of a preventative approach, and as a targeted area of support, to ensure that individuals who have been involved in offending can move on with their lives.

At least one third of the adult male population and one in ten adult females in Scotland have a criminal record. [16] Once people have a conviction it is much harder for them to gain employment. There are a number of barriers to improving the prospects of people with convictions securing and sustaining employment, volunteering, training and further learning. These include the stigma associated with declaring a criminal record; limited education experiences and low skills levels; willingness of employers to provide those with criminal convictions with job opportunities; a mismatch between job needs and skills levels; and lack of support available to employers. In addition to these complex inter-related factors, some individuals will simply be further away from employment than others on their desistance journey so it is important that a person-centred approach is taken.

It has been argued that the current legislation setting out disclosure of criminal activity to prospective employers is overly complex, poorly understood, and not properly applied. It is important that these arrangements strike the right balance to protect the public while also enabling people with criminal convictions to contribute to society through their employment. The Scottish Government is committed to reforming this legislation, and community justice partners should lead by example by reflecting on their own recruitment practices to ensure they are providing opportunities to people with convictions.

To improve employability, community justice partners, including SPS, criminal justice social work, SDS and third sector partners should:

Put the development of employability skills, training and lifelong learning at the heart of planning in order to facilitate better engagement with employers, provide fairer access to opportunities for those with criminal convictions, and reduce stigma for those who are on the path to rehabilitation.

Remove barriers to the recruitment of people with convictions.

Effectively managed person-centred transition where the needs of individuals are assessed and addressed

Although access to services is vital at all points in the community justice pathway, it can be of particular importance to those who are moving from custody back into the community. Effectively managed transition can transform lives, protect society and provide best value for public expenditure.

People who have committed offences often require support to build the resilience or self-motivation needed to engage fully with services available to them. To help address this, in addition to the statutory provision of throughcare to long-term prisoners, a range of processes have been established to assist the reintegration of those on release from custody and support their engagement with other appropriate services in the community.

Mentoring can be effective at addressing needs as part of a wider package of services. It helps people to learn constructive ways of addressing problems in their lives and reduce risk factors associated with offending behaviour, as well as increasing their motivation and readiness to change. Recent studies have recognised the effectiveness of these approaches in delivering better outcomes particularly the "through-the-gate" support provided by the Reducing Reoffending Change Fund.

The Scottish Prison Service has established a network of Throughcare Support Officers working through the gate to support people leaving custody, and third sector mentoring services are delivering extended one-to-one support to individuals. A range of other third sector and community bodies are also working to provide tailored assistance, advice and support (in a range of formats including peer support) to individuals in custody, those reintegrating to the community, and those under community based interventions. [17]

"The evidence on what works to reduce reoffending is clear; standalone interventions and access to services are unlikely to reduce reoffending on their own so mentoring should be seen as part of a holistic service where offenders are offered a range of services and interventions to meet their needs." [18]

Scottish Government, What Works to Reduce Reoffending: A summary of evidence, 2011

Across all of these activities, it is important that services and support are genuinely person-centred and focussed on achieving positive outcomes rather than simply completing processes, as well as being ready to draw on the individual's assets and addressing their problems. Planning for someone to make a transition needs to start before the transition process itself.

Improvements in collaboration, planning, case management and data sharing between justice and other service providers also has the potential to provide more efficient services, by reducing duplication and reinforcing each other's actions.

To ensure the successful transition of people from custody to our communities, partners including the Scottish Government, SPS and Community Justice Scotland should:

Support the commissioning and development of effective mentoring and "through-the gate" models using a range of mixed-method approaches to help manage effective transitions to positive destinations.


Back to top