197. We observed two court-based initiatives, combining the authority of the court with the use of rehabilitative services, employing a holistic approach to dealing with young people convicted and at risk of custody.
- The Problem-Solving Court in Aberdeen.
- The Structured Deferred Sentencing Court for Young People in Hamilton.
Both models aim to address the complex and multiple needs of offenders through the use of collaborative intervention and supervision. Each offender has a dedicated social worker. The Structured Deferred Sentencing Court is available to young offenders aged 16-21 years resident in North or South Lanarkshire. The Problem-Solving Court is currently available to prolific low-level offenders over 16 years, for women, and between 16-25 years for young men in Aberdeen City.
Participants attend court reviews on a regular basis. Both initiatives offer a flexible approach to interactions between the offender and social work. For example, in Hamilton, social workers will offer to meet with the offender in convenient venues rather than insist they attend at social work offices. They are proactive in assisting the young person to turn up at appointments, prepare them for court appearances and dealing with practical matters such as obtaining benefits.
There are a number of key elements to both schemes:
- To encourage more open dialogue a less formal court environment is adopted – cases in Aberdeen are held in private and only those on the deferred sentence scheme are present at the court hearing in Hamilton.
- Dedicated Sheriffs deal with the reviews providing the opportunity to develop a rapport.
- The most striking feature is the candid exchanges between the young person and the Sheriff –in a more personal and interactive fashion than the usual court hearings. We observed the young person explain why things had gone off track and how they were seeking to turn things around and the Sheriffs taking an empathetic, straight talking approach to dealing with the difficulties in the young person's life.
"You sit back and feel comfortable to say how you feel… It's a hundred times better than going to a normal court room [where I'd be] a bit more fazed about what other people are thinking – if I said I'd stay away from drinking, people would laugh (Male PSA participant)"
"…I tended to tell them that the next time I would be asking them to consider where they were now, compared with where they were when they started and then, on the final review, I asked them to reflect back on the progress made, and actually celebrated it with them saying 'look what's happened: you've got your tenancy, you had four custodial sentences in 2015, you've had none in 2016…". (Sheriff)
- The interest shown by the sheriff is seen as a motivating factor for some young people to make an effort to change their lives.
Such initiatives demand more social work resource and court time to administer but, if they manage to break the cycle of re-offending, the long term benefits have the potential to offset such costs.
Email: Carolyn Sharp