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'Re:duce, Re:habilitate, Re:form - A Consultation on Reducing Reoffending in Scotland'

The UNISON Scotland Response.

May 2004

Executive summary

UNISON Scotland is pleased to be able to respond to the Scottish Executives consultation document on reducing reoffending in Scotland.

UNISON Scotland believes that many of the proposals suggested in the current consultation document are falsely premised on the assumption that sentencing systems alone can have a significant impact on reducing re-offending. We believe that they cannot. Rather, UNISON Scotland believes that it is essential that custodial sentencing be integrated with other services that aim both to build offenders' capabilities and provide realistic opportunities for moving away from law-breaking lifestyles.

It is the opinion of UNISON members in CJSW services, that properly resourced community-based disposals are more effective in reducing re-offending than imprisonment. As such, we believe that there should be a greater level of investment in community based programmes and that the Courts be discouraged from using custodial sentences for rehabilitative ends. UNISON Scotland members in CJSW believe that prison should be a sentence of last resort and used mainly for dangerous offenders from whom the community needs protection.

UNISON Scotland disagrees with the Justice Ministers assertion that additional resources are not the answer to tackling re-offending rates in Scotland. We believe that that there must be a redeployment of resources from prison to community-based sentencing. It is the opinion of UNISON Scotland that there should be a greater reallocation of resources from servicing a prison population to both prevention of offending and alternatives to custodial sentences.

UNISON Scotland believes that a major strength of the current system is the ability of CJSW services to integrate with other services in the local authority and elsewhere to provide a more comprehensive and targeted range of services for offenders. We are concerned that if a single-agency is established and CJSW removed from local authority control this multi-agency and integrated approach could be seriously weakened.

UNISON Scotland believes also that the different agencies that work within Scotland's criminal justice system require greater strategic clarity, both at the local and national level. These strategies must be backed up with sufficient resources, which support all the partners who work in the field. Including those in the voluntary sector, those who deal with addiction and local authorities who deal with housing, early education and children in care.

UNISON Scotland believes that the development of a more co-ordinated and consistent system of throughcare and aftercare for short-term prisoners should be one of the priorities for the Executive in its drive to reduce re-offending rates in Scotland.

UNISON Scotland is strongly opposed to Executive proposals for the establishment of a single agency to deliver custodial and non-custodial sentences. We fail to see how shoehorning CJSW services into a single agency, whose dominant mode of delivery will be based on 'correctional' and 'punitive' measures will help reduce re-offending rates or aid the rehabilitation prospects for prisoners.

UNISON Scotland believes that the establishment of a new quango would mean the removal of yet more vital services from local democratic control in addition to making it immeasurably more difficult to exploit the close working relationship between the various local authority services and between the voluntary sector agencies.

UNISON Scotland believes a multi-agency partnership approach is required to effectively tackle Scotland's high rate of re-offending. We believe that rather than forge ahead with a major restructuring of the entire criminal justice system the Executive should consider implementing partnership arrangements similar to those adopted in the Joint Futures Agenda programme or by adopting a Public Service Network solution.

Introduction

UNISON is Scotland's largest trade union representing over 145,000 members working in the public sector. UNISON Scotland represents workers from social work services throughout Scotland, including criminal justice social work services and others administrating and supporting local authority social work teams.

We welcome the opportunity to comment on the issue of reducing reoffending rates in Scotland and to voice the wider concerns of our members who work within criminal justice social work services.

This paper constitutes UNISON Scotland's response to the Scottish Executive consultation document 'Re:duce, Re:habilitate, Re:form'.

Responses

Roles and Responsibilities

1.1

UNISON Scotland firmly believes that Scotland's local democratically accountable Councils remain best placed to deliver services to local communities and we are concerned that the establishment of a single agency could mean the removal of yet more vital services from local democratic control.

UNISON Scotland also believes that a major strength of the current system lies in the local nature of the Criminal Justice Social Work (CJSW) services provided and the fact that many community-based services can be tailored to address specific needs. UNISON Scotland believes that the establishment of a centralised single agency, which would absorb CJSW services into a service dominated by the SPS, would be unable to effectively deliver offender services responsive to local needs.

In addition, UNISON Scotland also believes that a positive feature of the current system is the ability of CJSW services to integrate with other services in the local authority and elsewhere to provide a more comprehensive and targeted range of services for offenders. CJSW services work within a multi-agency context with other social work colleagues, including those from children and families and also addictions. In addition they also work closely with the voluntary sector and with other agencies such as housing, health and the police. UNISON Scotland would be concerned that if a single-agency is established and CJSW removed from local authority control this multi-agency and integrated approach could be seriously weakened.

In addition, UNISON Scotland also believes that existing CJSW services play a crucial role, insofar as resources and circumstances permit, in tackling attitudes towards offending amongst Scotland's prison population. Despite resource limitations, there is no evidence to suggest that CJSW services in Scotland are not working. Concerns about sentencing, re-offending and rehabilitation are not indicative of failures of social work. There are countless examples of how local authority CJSW teams successfully addressing re-offending behaviour, making communities safer and preventing the need for custodial sentences.

UNISON Scotland fears that the establishment of a single agency could lead to the dilution of the social work task within the criminal justice system. We believe that transferring CJSW into a 'single agency', where the major emphasis of the work will be on correctional tasks such as monitoring, supervision and punishment, will lead inevitably to a perceived need for less qualified social work staff. In addition, we believe that there remains a strong possibility that qualified criminal justice social workers will opt to transfer to other areas of social work leaving the proposed new service weakened, particularly in the lead-in period.

It is the opinion of UNISON that a fundamental weakness of the current system is the fact that offenders given short custodial sentences receive little or no support to address their offending behaviour. UNISON Scotland believes that two important contributory factors behind Scotland's telling re-offending statistics are the fact that there are no mandatory programmes for offenders who spend less than 6 months in a Scottish prison and that supervision on release is not a legal requirement for short-term prisoners.

1.2 

Given the rate of re-offending, and our high custody rates, by European standards, it is clear to UNISON Scotland that the current system is not working and that community safety is not necessarily secured through prison.

Also, it is the opinion of UNISON Scotland that rehabilitation for short-term prisoners is not always a realistic objective. As noted already, there are no mandatory rehabilitation programmes for short-term offenders meaning that little can be done to address the behavioural and lifestyle issues that commonly influence the criminal behaviour of short-term prisoners. Secondly, the lack of effective aftercare provision for short-term prisoners is also problematic. Supervision on release is not a legal requirement for short-term prisoners. This situation makes their successful reintegration back into the community an extremely difficult task and increases the likelihood of re-offending.

UNISON Scotland believes that the development of a more co-ordinated and consistent system of throughcare and aftercare for short-term prisoners should be one of the priorities for the Executive in its drive to reduce re-offending rates in Scotland.

UNISON Scotland believes also that the different agencies that work within Scotland's criminal justice system require greater strategic clarity, both at the local and national level. In addition, these strategies must be backed up with sufficient resources, which support all the partners who work in the field. This includes not only people in criminal justice, but people in the voluntary sector, people who deal with addiction and local authorities who deal with housing, early education and children in care.

We believe that if re-offending is to be tackled effectively and the successful rehabilitation of prisoners is to be achieved it is crucial that all those people be brought together in a spirit of partnership working.

Further, many of the rehabilitation initiatives that have been established have been done so with ring-fenced funding from the Executive. UNISON Scotland believes that ring-fenced funding offers, at best, only a fixed short-term response to the rehabilitation of prisoners. Funding should be directed towards maintaining and improving core services and not ring-fenced for specific projects. It is the opinion of UNISON Scotland the ring fencing diverts resources and undermines local accountability.

1.3

UNISON Scotland believes a multi-agency approach is required to tackle Scotland's high rate of re-offending and to ensure the provision of effective rehabilitation schemes for prisoners. We believe that rather than forge ahead with a major restructuring of the entire criminal justice system the Executive should consider implementing arrangements similar to those adopted in the Joint Futures programme. This way the SPS and CJSW services can be brought together to work more effectively without the kind of upheaval that a full-scale merger would involve.

The current scenario in which a prisoner can be assessed several times by different agencies, find himself subject to different interventions which are delivered by different agencies that have no shared objectives, is in our opinion wasteful of resources and inefficient.

UNISON Scotland believes that one of the major benefits of a multi-agency partnership approach could be the use of 'Single Shared Assessments'. This would allow the most relevant agency to co-ordinate an assessment and disseminate the findings to all other agencies and related professionals. As with the Joint Futures Agenda, all the agencies involved in a particular programme should agree who does the assessment and accept the outcome, including the budgetary implications.

Single Shared Assessments would have the advantage of preventing any duplication, both in effort and use of resources, between the different agencies involved in offender assessment. In addition, the experience of those partners participating in the Joint Futures Agenda is that the single assessment approach actually provides the agencies with better quality information, leading in turn to an improved an service for users.

1.4

As already outlined above, UNISON Scotland believes that a much enhanced level of integration between the agencies involved in providing services to offenders needs to be established. We believe that a multi-agency partnership approach would ensure a better focus on shared objectives between all the agencies involved in providing these services.

UNISON Scotland believes the Executive could also consider the application of a Public Service Network (PSN) solution to deliver its stated objective of a Scottish Criminal Justice System, which effectively tackles Scotland's high rates of re-offending. PSNs are essentially an agreement between public service providers to work jointly on a project usually by pooling resources and working to a common action plan.

UNISON Scotland believes that a PSN solution would be a more rapid and effective method of responding to the need for change than a statutory reorganisation, integration and effective centralisation of SPS and CJSW services into a single 'correctional' agency. We believe that the implementation of a PSN solution would be able to encourage a spirit of co-operation, communication and mutual support across Scotland's Criminal Justice Services and amongst the agencies involved in delivering these services.

 1.5

The Executive is right to point to the fact that presently there is little, if any, overall co-ordination of objectives in the management of offenders. However, UNISON Scotland does not believe that establishing a single agency will enhance co-ordination and improve accountability for reducing re-offending rates.

One of our primary concerns regarding the proposals to establish a centralised single agency is that there is no evidence to suggest that such an agency will reduce re-offending, whilst merging Criminal Justice Social Work services with the Prison Service will increase the tendency to support custodial sentencing as an alternative to community sentencing.

UNISON Scotland believes also that the different agencies that work within Scotland's criminal justice system require greater strategic clarity, both at the local and national level. In addition, these strategies must be backed up with sufficient resources, which support all the partners who work in the field. This includes not only people in criminal justice, but people in the voluntary sector, people who deal with addiction and local authorities who deal with housing, early education and children in care. We believe that if re-offending is to be tackled effectively and the successful rehabilitation of prisoners is to be achieved it is crucial that all those people be brought together in a spirit of partnership working.

Ultimately however, a reduction in re-offending rates will only be brought about by a change in Scotland's sentencing policy. UNISON Scotland believes that the current sentencing regime in Scotland is the single most important causal factor that has to be addressed if rehabilitation of prisoners is to be effective.

We know from evidence-based research that short-term custodial sentences do not deter individuals from re-offending. Yet, in Scotland in 2002 over 80% of all custodial sentences were for terms of 6 months or less and, 70% of all individuals who were convicted of a crime in 2002 were re-offenders. UNISON Scotland believes that these figures point to an obvious failing.

UNISON Scotland believes that the Executive must develop sentence regimes that address, minimise and control the factors that contribute to offending behaviour, and which maximise factors that encourage law-abiding lives. As such, UNISON Scotland believes the Executive should give proper consideration to implementing more effective and long-term alternatives to short-term prison sentences.

Issue 2: The Purpose of Prison

2.1

UNISON Scotland believes that the development of a more co-ordinated and consistent system of aftercare for all short-term prisoners should be one of the priorities for the Executive in its drive to reduce re-offending rates in Scotland. It is the opinion of our members who work in CJSW that in the immediate term additional resources must be found to establish a more effective system of throughcare and aftercare for short-term prisoners.

2.3

UNISON Scotland believes the danger to be that the proposed single agency will be dominated by a punitive ethos at the expense of rehabilitation and the effective reintegration of offenders back into their local communities.

UNISON Scotland believes that the greatest challenge of rehabilitation on release from prison is re-integration into the community i.e. housing, employment, health services as well as family. We believe this would be much easier if the offender had not been removed from the community in the first place and had been able to retain their community and family links whilst serving their sentence. We believe that short-term sentences seldom address the offending behaviour and can often reinforce it. Where a custodial sentence is necessary we would support looking at models where the offender is able to retain their employment and family contacts through for example weekend custody only where intense programmes could be delivered.

In addition, UNISON Scotland believes the most effective prison sentences are those, which are tied to other, broader, interventions in the offender's life. This means that while it is important that the offence or pattern of offending leading to conviction and sentence be directly addressed by any sentence, it is also important that literacy, employment, health, addiction, accommodation, social and intimate relationships and other problem areas in the offender's life be addressed at the same time.

The experience of our membership in CJSW is that for all but a minority of offenders to move away from offending, the stepping-stones need to be put in place so that they are not left in the same poor social and economic circumstances that provided the context and motivation for offending.

UNISON Scotland believes that it is essential that sentences be integrated with other services that aim both to build offenders' capabilities and that also provide realistic opportunities for moving away from law-breaking lifestyles. We believe that this is most effectively done where the agencies work closely with offenders in the community.

2.4

UNISON Scotland is of the firm belief that the most effective and appropriate method of managing offenders remains within the current framework of Scotland's criminal justice system. There remains a clear consensus among CJSW staff and most other professional agencies, that the existing structures are perfectly adequate in providing a framework within which the respective agencies can work together towards the shared objective of reducing re-offending.

In addition, UNISON Scotland does not believe that a single agency will provide greater safety for the public or boost rehabilitation of prisoners any more than the current arrangements. We fail to see how shoehorning CJSW services into a single agency, whose dominant mode of delivery will be based on 'correctional' and 'punitive' measures will help reduce re-offending rates or aid the rehabilitation prospects for prisoners. There is little, if any, evidence of correctional services being able to effectively integrate with other services such as social work services and to excel in developing the wider welfare role that is the strength of criminal justice social work services.

Issue 3: Addressing Re-offending

3.1

UNISON Scotland acknowledges that there is no established mechanism in Scotland that routinely measure the effectiveness of custodial versus community sentences in reducing or ceasing re-offending. However, evidence from international research and from Scottish studies has shown that non-custodial sentences and probation are more effective in reducing the likelihood of re-offending than custodial sentences. UNISON Scotland sees no reason to dispute the results of this evidence-based research.

UNISON Scotland also believes that the current balance between custodial and community sentencing is far too heavily skewed in the favour of custodial sentencing. UNISON Scotland believes that the use of custody should be dramatically reduced, in particular short sentences, and replaced with improved community-based sanctions.

 

In addition, UNISON Scotland believes that part of the credibility problem with non-custodial sentences is that they are simply under funded at the moment and therefore can never be as credible as a much more heavily resourced prison service. It is our opinion that the £700m earmarked by the Executive for new prisons might be better invested in community disposals, which have a better track record in rehabilitating prisoners and ultimately preventing re-offending.

UNSION Scotland believes that there is a lack of confidence in community alternatives to custodial sentences, both at the judicial level and amongst the public at large. We do not see how massive structural change, in the shape of establishing a 'single agency' will address this problem. It is the opinion of our members in CJSW that only the development of a greater range of options will help create a greater confidence in community alternatives to custodial sentencing

UNISON Scotland believes that the courts need to be confident that community alternatives are appropriate to the particular offending behaviour. Where the alternatives are appropriate and, importantly, available, it has been shown that the courts do have confidence in them. However, where community alternatives do not have the confidence of the courts, the likelihood of them reverting to the custodial option increases.

In addition, the public also needs to be confident that non-custodial alternatives are successful and that they do not put community safety at risk. However, addressing this issue is difficult when the media and some politicians take a hysterical approach to crime. UNISON Scotland believes that greater emphasis on the success of non-custodial alternatives and programmes that have been evidenced as working, allied to a greater community development approach, would begin to build a much needed confidence in community alternatives to custodial sentencing.

 3.2

UNISON Scotland recognises that, currently, there are weaknesses in the provision of rehabilitation programmes. However, UNISON Scotland does not believe that a one-size-fits-all approach to the provision of programmes for offenders is either desirable or appropriate.

We believe it is important that any system of provision is allowed a degree of flexibility, in recognition of the fact that offenders are all different and require different services. UNISON Scotland would be concerned that a single agency would steer in the direction of providing a prescribed list of programmes, which would not allow for individual needs or the needs of the local community.

UNISON Scotland believes the involvement of all the agencies involved in providing services to offenders is required to ensure the provision of effective rehabilitation schemes for prisoners. We believe that the Executive needs to apply the principles of integrated working to the realms of criminal justice policy as a means of establishing a consistency and suitability in the provision of services to offenders. This way the SPS and CJSW services, along with the other statutory and voluntary agencies, can be brought together to work more effectively without the kind of structural upheaval that a full-scale merger would involve.

3.3

As stated above, UNISON Scotland believes that the current system of provision would benefit from a greater degree of partnership working between all Scotland's criminal justice agencies, and a greater level of partnership working between the SPS and CJSW services specifically.

In addition, we believe that the current structure of provision must be backed up with sufficient resources that support all the partners who work in the field. This includes not only people in criminal justice, but people in the voluntary sector, people who deal with addiction and local authorities who deal with housing, early education and children in care.

UNISON Scotland also believes that there is a need to develop a greater level of community support for community sentencing options and to increase the participation of community groups and individuals in these. We believe this will require investment to take forward a community development model, which engages the community's concerns and the need for offenders to remain integrated in the community to maintain employment, housing and family supports.

3.4

It is the opinion of UNISON Scotland that, as things currently stand, rehabilitation for short-term prisoners is not always a realistic objective. As noted above, there are no mandatory rehabilitation programmes for short-term offenders meaning that little can be done to address the behavioural and lifestyle issues, which commonly influence the criminal behaviour of short-term prisoners.

The lack of effective aftercare provision for short-term prisoners is also problematic. Supervision on release is not a legal requirement for short-term prisoners. This situation makes their successful reintegration back into the community an extremely difficult task and increases the likelihood of re-offending.

UNISON Scotland also believes that there is a need to develop a greater level of community support for community sentencing options and to increase the involvement of community groups and individuals in these. This would require investment to take forward a community development model, which engages the community's concerns and the need for offenders to remain integrated in the community to maintain employment, housing and family supports.

 Issue 4: Reducing Re-offending - An Integrated Approach

4.1

As stated previously, it is the opinion of UNISON that a fundamental weakness of the current system is the fact that offenders given short custodial sentences receive little or no support to address their offending behaviour.

UNISON Scotland also believes that ring-fenced funding of throughcare and aftercare projects offers, at best, only a fixed short-term response to the rehabilitation of prisoners. We believe that if the Executive is serious about reducing re-offending and advancing the effectiveness of rehabilitation it should improve and seek to maintain a greater level of investment in rehabilitation programmes for prisoners.

4.2

UNISON Scotland believes that if re-offending is to be tackled effectively and the successful rehabilitation of prisoners is to be achieved it is crucial that not only people in criminal justice, but people in the voluntary sector, people who deal with addiction and local authorities who deal with housing, early education and children in care are brought together in a spirit of partnership working.

In recognition of the fact a multi-agency solution to tackling re-offending is what is required, UNISON Scotland believes the Executive should consider the application of a Public Service Network (PSN) solution to deliver its stated objective of a Scottish Criminal Justice System, which effectively tackles Scotland's high rates of re-offending.

It is our belief that the application of a PSN solution would offer the best possibility, without major restructuring, to ensure effective partnership working between the main agencies within the Scottish criminal justice system.

4.4

UNISON Scotland has already noted that the lack of effective partnership working is probably the major barrier to successful communication between the different agencies. It should come as no surprise therefore to know that UNISON Scotland believes that we need an effective multi-agency partnership approach to overcome this barrier.

UNISON Scotland believes that information sharing should be introduced across all agencies, leading eventually to information systems integration. However, we also acknowledge that care must be taken to reassure users that the information obtained about them will be treated sensitively following their consent being obtained.

 4.5

It is the experience of our members in CJSW that the other key agencies that make a contribution to the service provided to offenders are housing, health, police and employment services.

 4.7

UNISON Scotland is strongly opposed to Executive proposals for the establishment of a single agency to deliver custodial and non-custodial sentences. In addition to the points we have outlined already, our opposition to the merging of CJSW services with the Prison Service is based on the following factors;

  1. The policy does not fit the stated objective

There has been no explanation by Ministers as to how creating a centralised single correctional agency will achieve the objective of reducing re-offending rates. There is certainly no evidence to support the supposition that merging Social Work Criminal Justice services with the Prison Service will reduce re-offending and enhance the rehabilitation prospects for prisoners.

b) Social Work Criminal Justice services are not failing

There is no evidence to suggest that Social Work Criminal Justice services in Scotland are not working. The Executives concerns in regards to sentencing, re-offending and rehabilitation are not indicative of failures of social work. There are countless examples of how, when supplied with the appropriate resources, local authority Social Work Criminal Justice teams are successful in addressing re-offending behaviour, making communities safer and preventing the need for custodial sentences.

  1. The existence of a different ethos between the Prison Service and the Social Work system.
  2. UNISON Scotland fails to see how shoehorning CJSW services into a single agency, whose dominant mode of delivery will be based on 'correctional' and 'punitive' measures will help reduce re-offending rates or aid the rehabilitation prospects for prisoners. There is little, if any, evidence of correctional services being able to effectively integrate with other services such as social work services and to excel in developing the wider welfare role that is the strength of criminal justice social work services.

  3. The cost and upheaval of establishing a single centralised agency will lead to a poorer service - certainly in the short-term.

The inevitable disruption in a transitional phase will distract from the service that has to be provided and we believe could lead to a less efficient and effective service. Again, we believe this could reduce public confidence in the system, exactly the opposite of what the Executive wants to achieve.

 

Issue 5: Effectiveness and Value for Money

5.1

In addition to the points already made concerning the lack of effective throughcare and aftercare for short-term prisoners, the need for additional resources to effectively tackle re-offending and improve rehabilitation and the perceived lack of public confidence in community disposals, UNISON Scotland also believes that the current assessment regime needs to be streamlined.

We believe that the current scenario in which a prisoner can be assessed several times by different agencies, find himself subject to different interventions, which are delivered by different agencies that have no shared objectives, to be inefficient and wasteful of resources.

 5.2

As already stated elsewhere in this document, UNISON Scotland believes a multi-agency approach is required to tackle Scotland's high rate of re-offending and to ensure the provision of effective rehabilitation schemes for prisoners.

5.4

UNISON believes that in this document we have outlined two possible solutions to effectively tackle Scotland's high incidence of re-offending, without the need for wholesale restructuring of the criminal justice system. These solutions both ensure an advanced level of partnership working between the different agencies.

A joint future type arrangement would allow for the effective ‘joining up' of services through bilateral agreement on joint aims and pooled budgeting and a PSN solution, we believe, would encourage a spirit of co-operation, communication and mutual support across Scotland's Criminal Justice services.

5.5

For the reasons outlined above, UNISON Scotland does not believe that a single agency would be capable of meeting these challenges.

5.6

UNSION Scotland does not believe that current resources are being used as effectively as they might be. Many of the rehabilitation initiatives that have been established have been done so with ring-fenced funding from the Executive. We believe that ring-fenced funding offers, at best, only a fixed short-term solution to the rehabilitation of offenders. It is our opinion that ring-fencing diverts resources and undermines local accountability, funding should be directed towards maintaining and improving core services and not ring-fenced for specific projects.

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For Further Information Please Contact:

Matt Smith, Scottish Secretary
UNISONScotland
UNISON House
14, West Campbell Street,
Glasgow G2 6RX

Tel 0141-332 0006 Fax 0141 342 2835

e-mail matt.smith@unison.co.uk

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