The Vision for Justice in Scotland

We set out our transformative vision of the future justice system for Scotland, spanning the full journey of criminal, civil and administrative justice, with a focus on creating safer communities and shifting societal attitudes and circumstances which perpetuate crime and harm.

Aim - We work together to address the underlying causes of crime and support everyone to live full and healthy lives

We know that in order to prevent people coming into contact with justice services, we have to tackle long-standing societal issues which exist beyond the boundaries of what we think of as the justice system. The causes of crime are many, varied and complex. Some of the factors that influence whether a person will come into contact with the justice system, such as poverty and inequality, Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), attachment to school, and drug and alcohol use, are often experienced from early life. We also know that for some of those who have offended they have also been victims themselves.

Many of these factors are interlinked and a person can be affected by one or many. We need to address harmful experiences and behaviours at the earliest possible opportunity and take a preventative approach which allows for people to be considered as individuals with complex needs. We should always be treated as a person first and be supported to improve our life chances. Our public services should therefore assess and respond to our needs and any associated risks proportionately.

Arrivals to prison are disproportionately from the most deprived areas

Area Deprivation decile groups

Most Deprived - 33%










SPPS 2019-20

Crime and victimisation are intrinsically linked to deep-seated issues such as poverty and income and wealth inequality. The evidence shows that increasing income inequality experienced by those in developed countries, like Scotland has been linked to lower health and social outcomes, especially those connected to crime and justice. There is clear evidence of a link between experience of area-level deprivation and crime with those living in the most deprived areas being more likely than the rest of Scotland to experience crime with fewer resources to cover the cost. Compared to mothers in the highest-income households, mothers on the lowest incomes are far more likely to experience domestic abuse. To improve the life chances for all of Scotland’s adults and children, is beyond the responsibility of justice alone. We need to work together to mitigate the impact of poverty and disadvantage and reduce those who have contact with the justice system.

Drugs and alcohol

The last Scottish Crime and Justice Survey results found that those who have offended were believed to be under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs in over half of violent incidents and self-reported illicit drug use amongst adults has increased from 7.6% of adults in 2008-09, to 9.7% in 2018-20. Whilst our knowledge is incomplete, we know that there is a relationship between people having a drug-related death and prior contact with the criminal justice system.

Where it is known, 33% of people who had a drug-related death (DRD) in 2015 and 28% of people who had a DRD in 2016 had been in police custody in the six months prior to their death. In addition, slightly over half of the 2016 cohort (53%) had ever been in prison and 12% had spent time in prison in the six months prior to death.

The population in contact with the criminal justice system is a vulnerable one in health and wellbeing terms, with people experiencing high levels of mental health problems, trauma, learning difficulties (sometimes undiagnosed) and speech, language and communication needs. Justice agencies are commonly dealing with situations where the main issues are around mental health and distress, where no offence, or only a minor offence, has been committed. Police are dealing with increasing numbers of people in mental health distress and that this is placing significant demand on their services and that of health services. To the benefit of individuals and communities we must work with partners to improve the mental and physical health and wellbeing of those who come into contact with the justice system.

Alcohol and drugs remain a factor in many violent crimes. Evidence suggests that restrictions on the availability of alcohol, including minimum pricing, ensuring a minimum age of purchase is adhered to, reducing the number and density of premises where alcohol is sold, and restricting days and hours of sale, are all associated with a reduction in crime. We must therefore prevent and experience less harm caused by alcohol and drugs by ensuring appropriate support and interventions are provided.

We know that those with care experience are over-represented in the criminal justice system in Scotland. Although those who have been in care only make up an estimated 0.5% of the general population, almost half of young people in prison reported that they had experienced care. This pattern continues into adult life with the latest prisoner survey showing that a quarter of prisoners had been in care at some point. There are many reasons why care experienced people face higher rates of criminal convictions. These include: over-involvement with, and a feeling of stigmatisation by the police; increased scrutiny in care placements; participation in difficult formal processes, all of which are rooted in the lived experiences of being in care. As children we have a right to grow up loved, safe and respected. We must #Keep the Promise and ensure that children and young people living in care have access to support they need to thrive.

We know that those who experience multiple Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) are more likely than those who do not, to come into contact with the criminal justice system as victims, witnesses or perpetrators of crime. For example, the Welsh study of ACEs showed that comparing to those with no ACEs, those with 4 or more ACES were 15 times more likely to be a perpetrator of violence in the last 12 months. However, we also know that strong positive family environments can be a large protective factor from damaging experiences, helping young people to avoid offending. The youth justice whole-system approach to preventing offending highlights this important role, taking early action at the first signs of any difficulty to create positive family environments and social networks.

The importance of the school environment is crucial in addressing the causes of offending and in ensuring a range of positive outcomes for young people. Our evidence tells us that early exclusion from school predicts later engagement in crime and offending, both in terms of “general" offending and “serious" offending. School-based interventions have been found to be effective in reducing the risk of offending, especially those that encourage positive behaviour by clearly enforcing the boundaries around acceptable and unacceptable behaviours. To provide the best chances for their future we should nurture children to fulfil their potential including through education.

2 in 5 of those arrested by Police Scotland have a mental health issue (estimated)

We will have achieved our aim to work together to address the underlying causes of crime and support everyone to live full and healthy lives when:

  • children, young people and families avoid the damaging impacts of poverty.
  • we all participate in healthier and more respectful relationships.
  • we require less support from emergency justice service responses due to mental ill health.
  • children experience fewer adverse childhood experiences.
  • we are all supported at the earliest possible stage to avoid high-risk behaviours.
  • young people are less likely to offend and the whole-system approach to preventing offending has been extended.



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