Review of the Aberdeen Problem Solving Approach: report

Review of the Aberdeen Sheriff’s Court’s Problem Solving Approach for prolific female and young male offenders.

6 Conclusions

The PSA in Aberdeen has been successfully implemented and is running as it was intended to run (albeit with lower numbers than originally anticipated). Relatively intensive support is combined with the authority of the court (through regular court reviews involving personal interaction with the sheriff) and both elements are important in supporting participants to deal with problems in their lives and reduce their offending.

The PSA shows promise and we recommend that Community Justice Partners in other parts of Scotland give consideration to setting up a similar programme in their summary courts. When doing so, the local context, in comparison with Aberdeen, should be taken into account. As robust data on the PSA's impact remains scarce, it will be particularly important that extensive monitoring and evaluation processes are built into any new pilots, to continue to grow the Scottish evidence base.

6.1 Areas for future consideration or improvement

The Review identified the following areas that local partners in Aberdeen should consider.

  • Now that the PSA has bedded in, local partners should review the eligibility criteria – including whether it might be appropriate to target people with fewer than seven convictions but at risk of accumulating many more.
  • The findings reinforce the importance of ensuring that, from the outset, participants understand what support will be on offer to them when they exit the PSA and of encouraging independence from services.
  • Professionals should remain alert to the risk of up-tariffing. In particular, there is a risk that concerns about insufficient support after completion may lead to up-tariffing in order to keep someone on the programme (and engaged with services) for longer. As noted above, exit plans and clarity about access to continued support after completion are also important in this regard.
  • There was a suggestion that the issue of charges being called in another court requires a more 'joined up approach' across courts and data collection systems to ensure that information on PSA participants can be passed on to other courts ( i.e. participating in PSA highlighted to fiscals reviewing outstanding warrants).
  • While relationships between staff in the different partner agencies appeared to be good, there is scope to improve communication further to ensure that all stakeholders (and new staff, in particular) are aware of the PSA and how it works – and have the opportunity to contribute suggestions for improvement. It was suggested that the multi-agency meetings that were held during the set-up stage should be reinstated. Community Justice Partners could also be involved, to ensure everyone is up-to-date with changes happening in the local area and to consider any potential impact on PSA.
  • Provide more regular communications to wider stakeholders (particularly those not as closely involved on a daily/weekly basis e.g. other sheriffs, court staff, and defence agents who did not have clients on the PSA) to ensure they remain aware of the PSA including: criteria for admission; the process; potential outcomes for participants; and what their roles are in relation to it.

6.1.1 Future research and evaluation

  • Unique IDs for each individual were not included in the monitoring data for data protection reasons. Tracking longer-term outcomes, including recidivism, would require a means of linking the relevant data. It may be possible to access Scottish Offenders Index data anonymously with the relevant URN once the numbers of cases grow to the point that identifying an individual is no longer a possibility.
  • It would also be useful to obtain the views of the wider judiciary to explore what they felt about the approach in general and whether it had any knock-on impact on their work.

6.2 Implications for other areas

A summary of the key learning points from this Review, for stakeholders in other areas to consider, is provided below.

6.2.1 Setting up a problem-solving court

  • The importance of having the 'right people' in place (at the set-up stage and beyond) was stressed – which generally meant those with a positive attitude towards the PSA concept.
  • Multi-agency workshops and regular meetings are important in the development and early implementation stages to ensure buy-in, build relationships and resolve teething problems.
  • The sheriff who led the set-up from the judicial side spent a considerable amount of time reading, attending conferences and talking to other professionals during the development of the PSA pilot – she advised that colleagues in other areas who were considering setting up a PSA should not underestimate the time involved – though other areas will, of course, benefit from the Aberdeen findings in this report.

6.2.2 Running a problem-solving court

  • Pro-active identification of potential participants by sheriffs and defence agents helps engage participants. This reinforces the importance of raising awareness of the PSA among relevant professionals.
  • The PSA process can bring all outstanding charges together to be dealt with at one point, which both professionals and PSA participants saw as an important feature of the process. With all cases rolled together, the participant could be admonished in relation to some of the charges to recognise and reward compliance, thus increasing incentives.
  • Professionals viewed the rapid report (produced within seven days of the offence compared to 28 days for other orders) as a key benefit of the PSA. This enabled cases to be processed quickly.
  • The time-tabling of participants' monthly reviews required considerable organisation to fit them into the court schedule and sheriffs' rotas.
  • The fact that only those directly involved in the participant's case were present at the hearings, and that there were no onlookers in the public gallery, was very important to participants. They felt that this facilitated more open and honest discussion.

6.2.3 Making it work in a local context

  • The PSA's success is reliant on having appropriate local services to which PSA participants can be referred. For example, having the Women's Centre already established in Aberdeen was considered to be hugely valuable.
  • Most courts will cover more than one local authority area so whether the PSA can be offered to residents in all areas should be considered. (Aberdeen Sheriff Court covers Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire, but the PSA only covers Aberdeen City residents).
  • The benefit of having a predisposal social work team based in council premises adjacent to Aberdeen Sheriff Court was noted. This facilitated access to potential participants and communication among the professionals involved.
  • It was suggested that transport issues (in relation to participants attending meetings and reviews) could present a potential issue for effective operation in rural areas. Criminal Justice Social Work in Aberdeen provided participants with bus tokens which they felt worked very well to help them attend meetings and reviews.

6.2.4 Estimating the resources required

  • Estimating numbers of participants. The data on numbers screened and referred, and on current cases, provides a rough guide that other areas could use to estimate the likely numbers of cases. However, there may be differences in the demographic/criminogenic profile in different areas and any proposed differences in criteria ( e.g. the number of previous convictions or the age criteria for men) should also be borne in mind.
  • Estimating the staff resource required. Similarly, the data on the time input required per case from different professionals could be used be used as a rough guide by other areas. Again, however, differences in local processes (both existing processes and the agreed process for the PSA) should be taken into account.


Email: Ella Edginton

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