Plans for new body to oversee justice in community

Community sentences may provide greater opportunity for rehabilitation. Picture: Sean Bell
Community sentences may provide greater opportunity for rehabilitation. Picture: Sean Bell
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A NEW national body has been proposed to oversee community justice as Scottish Government research reveals that community sentences are more effective in reducing reoffending than short prison terms.

The Community Justice (Scotland) Bill has been put forward by the Scottish Government as it seeks to implement a new model for community justice in Scotland, aimed at putting local delivery and collaboration at its heart.

A key component of this is the proposal to set up a new national body to “provide leadership and create a focus on ­collaboration” among community justice partners such as the Scottish Court Service, prison service, local authorities and health boards.

The plans are still subject to the parliamentary process as the bill goes before ministers for ­approval later this year.

A report compiled by criminolgy and criminal justice lecturer Dr Maria Sapouna, and her team from the University of the West of Scotland, points to a number of studies which find that those serving short prison sentences have higher rates of reoffending than those serving community sentences.

The research goes on to state that community sentences may provide greater opportunity for rehabilitation.

Community safety and legal affairs minister Paul Wheelhouse said: “We want to work in partnership with organisations and communities to reduce re-offending and to deliver better outcomes for offenders and communities.

“We have engaged extensively with stakeholders in developing this model and share their view that community justice services should be person-centred and evidence-based while making the best use of resources, all of which is reflected in today’s bill.”

Tom Halpin, chief executive of Sacro, which oversees restorative justice schemes, welcomed the proposed new model and said: “Sacro supports the introduction of proposals contained in the Community Justice (Scotland) Bill.

“This provides a strong ­opportunity for Scotland’s community justice services to work collaboratively and deliver ­reduced reoffending and safer communities.

“Working through Community Planning Partnerships, where multi-agency working supports the delivery of joined-up services with strong leadership and accountability, is key to transforming the lives of people who are motivated to desist from offending.

North Lanarkshire councillor Harry McGuigan, the spokesman for community well-being on local authority umbrella group Cosla, said: “Reducing reoffending continues to be a priority for local government and we are working closely with the Scottish Government to ensure a smooth transition to the new model for community justice.”