National Strategy for Community Justice

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

7 Effective Use of Evidence-Based Interventions

In order to maintain confidence and protect the interests of people who have been victims of crime, it is important that the interventions available reflect the appropriate level of risk and the nature and severity of the offence, and should be robustly and consistently applied and delivered.

We will drive improvement in the following areas:

  • Ensure the delivery of effective, evidence-based interventions.
  • Adopt a person-centred approach, tailored to meet the differing demands of specific groups and focused on getting individuals the support that they require.

Evidence shows that short-term prison sentences do not work in terms of rehabilitating people or reducing and preventing further offending. More than this, they disrupt families and communities as well as greatly affecting employment opportunities and stable housing - the very things that support desistance from offending. [19]

That is not a good use of public resources and it is a waste of human potential. Instead, our focus should be on community-based interventions that evidence shows are effective at reducing and preventing further offending.

How these interventions are used is also important. They should be delivered using a person-centred, collaborative approach that is tailored to meet the differing demands of specific groups and focused on addressing the underlying causes of offending behaviour. There should be an emphasis on shifting interventions upstream, based on the premise of the least intrusive intervention at the earliest possible time.

In order to maintain confidence and protect the interests of people who have been victims of crime, it is important that the interventions available reflect the appropriate level of risk and the nature and severity of the offence, and should be robustly and consistently applied and delivered. Alternatives to prison will not be appropriate for some people.

Ensuring the Delivery of Effective, Evidence-Based Interventions

An "intervention" can range from a programme directly or indirectly intended to reduce and prevent further offending; an action aimed at improving the health of people who have committed offences; a third sector or community service to improve local outcomes, or a justice intervention such as a community sentence.

All community justice partners have an important role to play in ensuring the delivery of effective interventions: whether raising awareness of what works; developing new interventions; planning the provision of interventions alongside other partners; or the direct delivery of the interventions themselves. The planning and reporting cycle described in a later section provides a mechanism for monitoring the efficacy of these interventions.

Some partners will play a more prominent role than others for particular interventions - for example Police Scotland in relation to Early Intervention, the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service ( COPFS) in relation to Alternatives to Prosecution, and local authority criminal justice social work teams in relation to a number of Community Sentences, but all partners will need to come together to ensure that the best possible outcomes are delivered.

The Scottish Government want to ensure that effective, evidence-based interventions are available in every local authority across Scotland, and that there is increased use of these to help prevent and reduce further offending.

Early intervention

There is strong evidence to suggest that tackling the underlying causes of offending, such as problematic drug or alcohol use, or mental health issues can be effective in reducing crime. Community justice partners should help people into appropriate support services as early as possible with greater use of Arrest Referral, and Police Custody Healthcare such as Alcohol Brief Interventions, distress brief interventions and community triage. Police Scotland should also make effective use of the new recorded police warnings to refer people who have offended to services that may help them to desist.

Community justice partners should:

Maximise opportunities for early intervention and be mindful of the impact of areas such as health, on improving community justice outcomes.

Alternatives to prosecution

When a report is submitted by the police to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, prosecution in court is only one of a range of possible options. If the Procurator Fiscal believes that such action would not be in the public interest, they have the power to formally divert the person away from prosecution towards a social work or third sector service, or impose a fiscal work order.

Diversion aims to prevent individuals entering the wider criminal justice system by addressing the underlying causes of offending; and help ensure people get access to the drug, alcohol and mental health services they need. It is especially effective when the diversionary intervention is complemented by work designed to address the underlying issues which contributed to the offending behaviour.

The Scottish Government want to see increased use of diversion and fiscal work orders to address the individual's underlying needs and free up resources to be reinvested into the community.

Community justice partners should:

Maximise opportunities for the use of diversion. This will require a balance of appropriate decision-making by the Procurator Fiscal and provision of suitable services by criminal justice social work and the third sector.

Alternatives to remand

For the past decade the remand population has accounted for approximately 20% of the average daily prison population. As well as the overarching issue of the public interest, there are a number of considerations that the court must take into account when considering a bail application, including the likelihood of an individual failing to appear.

The Scottish Government believes that a certain proportion of those on remand are not likely to constitute a significant risk to the public. Short-term imprisonment (of any kind) disrupts families and communities, and adversely impacts on employment opportunities and stable housing - the very things that evidence shows supports desistance from offending. For these reasons, the Scottish Government want to see a decrease in the use of remand.

Community justice partners should:

Increase the availability and quality of alternatives to remand such as electronic monitoring and bail supervision.

Community sentences

The Scottish Government is committed to the principle set out by the Scottish Prison Commission in their 2008 [20] report that:

"To move beyond our reliance on imprisonment as a means of punishing offenders…paying back to the community should become the default position in dealing with less serious offenders."

Evidence suggests that imprisonment may increase long-term offending by weakening social bonds and decreasing job stability. [21] Rather than relying on costly and ineffective short-term custodial sentences, the Scottish Government want to see a decisive shift in the balance between community and custodial sentences.

Community sentences deliver tangible benefits to communities by making individuals pay back for the damage caused by their crimes through unpaid work. They also offer real opportunities for rehabilitation, requiring individuals to tackle the underlying causes of their offending behaviour. Feedback received from both beneficiaries of unpaid work projects and the individuals made subject to these orders makes clear that they are delivering positive outcomes and helping people to move away from offending behaviour. [22]

A wide range of community sentences are available including Community Payback Orders ( CPOs), Restriction of Liberty Orders ( RLOs) and Drug Treatment and Testing Orders ( DTTOs).

Community Payback Orders ( CPOs) play an important role in improving community understanding and participation. The legislation enshrines the principle that local authorities should consult their communities on the types of unpaid work to be undertaken. There are hundreds of unpaid work projects taking place across Scotland at any one time providing tangible benefits to local communities.

CPOs also offer real opportunities for rehabilitation, for example by combining unpaid work with structured intervention programmes designed to tackle the underlying causes of an individual's offending behaviour or allowing for targeted drug, alcohol or mental health interventions.

Drug Treatment and Testing Orders ( DTTOs): Individuals made subject to a Drug Treatment and Testing Order ( DTTO) are required to display significant levels of co-operation and compliance during what is a highly intensive and invasive community disposal.

Evidence suggests that DTTOs can have a positive and dramatic impact on both drug use and offending with even non-completers demonstrating reduced reconviction rates; and that a shortened form of the order (a DTTO II) can be particularly effective in targeting women offenders, young offenders, and those who have had no previous contact with drug services. [23]

In line with best evidence, the Scottish Government wants to see an increase in use of targeted drug treatment programmes, especially those aimed at individuals who are less entrenched in their drug use.

Electronic Monitoring: the use of electronic monitoring solely as a punishment is, and should remain, a legitimate sentencing option. However, in addition to this, the versatility of existing and new technology, including GPS, provides opportunities for electronic monitoring to be used much more creatively, at additional points in the justice system and to be individually tailored to support specific goals. Such goals could be to set exclusion zones for the protection of victims; as a means of control to assure that an individual is present at an address; to break a pattern of offending behaviour; or to set curfew times around employment and training schedules.

Where the goal is to use electronic monitoring to aid longer term desistance, the international evidence recognises that it is most effective when used as part of a person-centred approach and set within a much wider package of support. In addition, where it has been risk assessed as appropriate, electronic monitoring can enable individuals to remain in the community with their families, while preserving accommodation and employment - the very things that evidence shows support desistence from offending, reducing further offending and the impact that has on communities.

The current legal framework allows a person subject to a community sentence to have both electronic monitoring and a support package in place as part of a CPO with a concurrent Restriction of Liberty Order. We must build on this to change how electronic monitoring is thought about and used in Scotland, using a goal-oriented approach where appropriate, whether that goal is to support public or victim protection or to aid longer term desistance.

Structured Deferred Sentences: are typically aimed at individuals with underlying problems such as unemployment; drug or alcohol dependency; mental health or learning difficulties and allows for intervention work to be carried out pending the final disposal of the case. Evidence suggests that, as well as providing support to change behaviour and address needs this can lead to a reduced sentence and an associated reduction in reoffending. [24]

The Scottish Government wants to see a decisive shift from custody to community, through an increase in the use of community alternatives. To ensure the delivery of effective, evidence-based interventions at all appropriate points in the criminal justice system, partners should:

Increase the availability and quality of services in order to maximise the use of community disposals such as community payback orders, DTTOs, electronic monitoring and structured deferred sentences.

Third Sector interventions

The third sector provide a broad range of interventions to support desistance and reintegration, for example, practical and emotional support for people who have offended and their families, specialised services focussed on drugs, alcohol, mental health problems and isolation, and gender-specific support services aimed at women involved in the criminal justice system. Third sector interventions can also improve the efficacy of services delivered by public sector agencies, by helping to develop strong relationships and working across silos to assist in the delivery of joined-up support.

Community justice partners should:

Capitalise on third sector interventions to improve community justice outcomes.

Adopting a person-centred approach, tailored to meet the differing demands of specific groups and focused on getting individuals the support that they require

Desistance is a highly individualised process. Generic, one-size-fits-all interventions are ineffective. [25] It is not sufficient just for the intervention to be available - the quality of the intervention can impact on its effectiveness and, where possible, this should be flexible and innovative in response to complex and varied needs.

A person-centred approach puts the individual at the heart of the intervention. Interventions should be matched to an individual's level of risk, focus on their specific needs, and be matched to their individual responsivity characteristics.

The responsivity principle focuses on personal characteristics that regulate an individual's ability and motivation to learn within a therapeutic environment. Factors that interfere with learning - such as poor social or problem solving skills - are responsivity factors.

Relationships are also a significant factor in desistance - the delivery of an intervention should be accompanied by the development of a working relationship based on pro-social modelling. Anyone delivering an intervention should have high expectations of the individual engaging with that intervention, recognising what that individual can and should be contributing to his or her community. Where possible and appropriate, support from family, friends and communities should also be incorporated into interventions to help develop or maintain positive relationships.

Community justice partners should deliver high-quality, person-centred interventions which meet the following criteria:

  • Matched to an individual's level of risk, focused on their specific needs, and matched to their responsivity characteristics.
  • Focused on how interventions are delivered just as much as what is being delivered.
  • Both flexible and innovative in response to varying and complex needs
  • Specific services aimed at addressing the complex needs of differing cohorts (e.g. women, young people, individuals with drug dependency, learning difficulties etc.).
  • At the earliest point possible, and is only as invasive as it needs to be in order to deliver the change needed.
  • Developing and nurturing the assets and skills of people who have been involved in offending.
  • Provided by staff who are enabled to build appropriate relationships with individuals who have offended through positive and genuine engagement, and to act as co-agents of change.
  • Incorporate support from friends, families and communities to help develop positive relationships.

To maximise the effectiveness of an intervention, it is also important to ensure that people engaging with interventions are:

  • Well prepared and motivated for participation.
  • Supported to participate and apply any learning.
  • Supported to follow up on goals they have set as a result of participation.

In 2013-15 the Scottish Government provided time-limited funding for 16 projects proposed by criminal justice partners across Scotland to develop community services for women. A review of these services conducted by the Institute for Research and Innovation in Social Services [26] found that the holistic approach taken offered a genuinely enhanced service as an alternative to traditional approaches to the supervision of women, with practitioners working with women as individuals with strengths, needs and aspirations rather than focusing on them as simply "offenders".

The review found that these services supported women to make observable progress towards outcomes associated with desistance. Critical elements for the successful development of these services included: the establishment of effective partnerships (for example with health, welfare, the private and public sectors); employing the "right" staff (with the necessary skills, attributes and experience); and creating an environment in which there is commitment and flexibility to trial new ways of working.

Effective management of compliance is a factor that can be critical to the achievement of the purposes of an order. Non-compliance should be seen as an opportunity for the individual to understand their responsibilities and to learn something that could enable progress. Distinguishing different causes of non-compliance (for example drift in motivation, lack of confidence, an unanticipated event or crisis, or wilful refusal) can enable a gradated and tailored response.

Community justice partners should:

Provide a more consistent, gradated response to difficulties with compliance, focused on supporting individuals to comply with the requirements of their order.


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