The Justice Secretary before last, Michael Gove, was very keen on problem-solving courts; the last post-holder, Liz Truss, much less so and we are yet to find out if the present incumbent, David Lidington is a fan. Nonetheless, many criminal justice commentators advocate their use — they featured in the recent 10-point plan by the Centre for Social Justice to re-boot the Rehabilitation Revolution — and the Centre for Justice Innovation (CJI) are the most reliable source of the latest research on them.
The CJI has just (21 September 2017) published a new report on the latest developments in Scotland, providing a brief and useful account of three different problem-solving courts.
What are problem-solving courts?
Problem-solving courts seek to use the authority of the court to enhance the rehabilitative power of community sentences. They combine the provision of multi-disciplinary treatment in the community with regular court reviews to monitor and encourage offenders’ progress. They usually have a particular specialism, whether a specific need such as drug abuse, a specific crime, such as domestic abuse, or a specific group of offenders such as women or young adults.
Primarily based in adult criminal courts, but also applied in family and juvenile jurisdictions, problem-solving courts emerged in the USA and have since spread to countries such as Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Australia, New Zealand. Extensive international evidence suggests that, when delivered appropriately to the right population, problem-solving courts can reduce reoffending, improve compliance with court orders and generate savings for the state
Problem-solving in Scotland
The history of problem-solving in Scotland can be dated back to the opening of the Glasgow Drug Court in 2001. The project, which is located in Glasgow Sheriff Court, oversaw the management of offenders on Drug Treatment and Testing Orders (DTTOs), offering them a dedicated multi-disciplinary treatment service and regular judicial monitoring.
Today, Scotland has a small group of established problem-solving courts targeting issues like substance abuse and domestic violence. As well as specialist sites, the principles of problem-solving have also influenced the development of mainstream sentencing.
In particular, The Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act (CJLSA) 2010 gave all courts the powers to order progress reviews for any offenders on a Community Payback Order. Interest in problem-solving courts in Scotland was strengthened by the 2012 report of the Angiolini Commission on Women Offenders which suggested that the approach was promising in the Scottish context, though not yet proven. It recommended a new pilot court be set up in a major Scottish conurbation.
The interest sparked by this report has led, both directly and indirectly, to a new cohort of emerging problem-solving courts. These courts draw on the powers offered by the CJLSA and existing local resources to provide sustainable problem-solving approaches which respond to specific local needs.
The Aberdeen Problem-Solving Approach
The Aberdeen Problem Solving Approach seeks to reduce the use of short custodial sentences by providing new community disposals to women and young adult males with complex needs and multiple previous convictions. It has been supported by the Scottish Government after Aberdeen won a competitive bidding process to be the site of the Angiolini commission pilot.
It works with women over 16 who have and men aged 16-25, providing them with wrap-around support from a combination of criminal justice social work services and the voluntary sector. Alongside the support package, the court regularly reviews the progress of offenders to encourage them to comply.
Edinburgh Alcohol Problem-Solving Court
The Edinburgh Alcohol Problem Solving Court (APSC) seeks to provide alcohol-dependent offenders with quicker assessment, speedier access to interventions, and regular oversight by the Sheriff through progress reviews. The project is a partnership between the court, the local authority and CLG a local treatment provider. The partners originally assembled to respond to a call for proposals from the Scottish Government but after the bid was unsuccessful, the partners decided to go ahead using local resources.
Offenders admitted to the APSC receive a Community Payback Order, which incorporates alcohol addiction treatment from CLG . As well as treatment, the service can also help them access housing (many are homeless) and other forms of support. Treatment services are delivered at hubs across the catchment area. Treatment services are delivered at hubs across the catchment area. CLG addiction workers are the key point of contact for the offender, reporting progress and compliance to social workers who the prepare progress reports for regular court reviews.
The pilot dealt with 26 cases in its first year of operation and is seeking to expand in the coming years.
Forfar Problem-Solving Court
Forfar Problem-Solving Court, which opened in January 2017, provides support and supervision to persistent offenders through a specialist court hearing and tailored support services. The project, which was transferred to Forfar from another court, represents an interesting example of how an innovative model needs to be adjusted as it moves to a different context.
The Forfar project has its origins in a partnership between sheriffs sitting in Arbroath Sheriff Court and the Glen Isla Project, a women’s community justice centre run by Criminal Justice Social Workers from Angus Council. However, when the project transferred to Forfar the busy court schedule meant that vulnerable defendants were being asked to disclose personal details in reviews taking place in busy, open court rooms.
Problem-solving sittings now take place fortnightly on a Wednesday morning, in a small, relatively intimate court room. As well as reviews, offenders receive support from the Glen Isla project and other community services.
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