True law and order is about much more than prisons and tough sentences – Karyn McCluskey

Some people tell me we just need to build more jails, have longer sentences and some share even more extreme views (thanks Twitter).

Locking up generations of people whose lives are chaotic and blighted by poverty, addiction and mental health conditions is not the answer (Picture: Paul Faith/PA Wire)

But there are more in Scotland who recognise that in too many cases it’s not just that we need more justice services, we need more of the services that support us into well-being.

We carried out a public survey recently where we asked people what they thought was needed to help prevent crime. They said more services for drugs and alcohol help, mental health, housing and financial support.

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Of course I would like to see people who come through justice services get a job, have a family, support and community and most do. But for a small number, and it is small, our services may know them for many decades.

These complicated individuals have lives most of us would recognise from our newspapers; lives beset with neglect, substances, exclusion and unaddressed trauma. They will be in and out the justice system often for low-level chaos. Although it’s often never low level for the communities where they will have been a challenge for health services through their early life, then for education, then justice – and inevitably sadly back to health services.

What is required is multi-agency case management to ensure a better outcome, and less money spent in the long term.

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Here’s the thing, it’s not just about these individuals, it’s about their children and families. Teachers across this country, whether we choose to recognise it or not, will know and anticipate children in their classes who have been born into families where chaos reigns. They may have taught and cared for, because care is needed, successive children who all require additional support, and who may or may not get it in sufficient quantities to change their lives.

In my life in violence reduction, I lost count of the number of police officers who have spent a career in community policing who told me they had “had enough of jailing grandfathers, fathers and sons, we need to do something else”.

There is something trite but immensely sad in that line; it nods to successive failures of generations of human beings over decades. It highlights how we fail to prevent, and where services just recognise a family name with weary resignation and, in some cases, believe the outcome is predetermined.

It’s not. It shouldn’t be for the parent and certainly not for the children. My great colleague Sir Harry Burns, ex-Chief Medical Officer for Scotland, gives the most amazing lecture on health.

It’s not about the absence of disease, but what is actually required for well-being; a life that is predictable, understandable, manageable and where there is a sense of hope. For children and adults who exist in chaos, unpredictability, poverty, addiction and mental health conditions, they have the antithesis of what is required for well-being. No wonder they become unwell, no wonder they fail to reach their potential or recover from the ill effects of their circumstances.

Longer term, wrap-around, person-centred support for the adults who are in and out the justice system might sound expensive – but we pay now or we will be paying later and the cost of ruined lives is too great.

Karyn McCluskey is chief executive of Community Justice Scotland

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