Strategy to focus on crime prevention

Cornton Vale
Image caption A smaller jail will be built at Cornton Vale to house 80 women prisoners

The Scottish government has announced a greater emphasis on crime prevention as part of its new justice strategy.

Justice Secretary Michael Matheson published the new priorities as he started the demolition of Scotland's only women's prison at Cornton Vale.

Two new community-based custody units for women will be located in Glasgow and either Fife or Dundee.

The new units will focus on recovery and keeping women closer to their families.

A smaller prison will also be built at Cornton Vale for 80 women. The current jail - which is 42 years old - was built for 217 women but ultimately housed about 350.

In 2012, a commission set up by the Scottish government called for the country's only women's prison to be demolished following mounting concern about the number of women held in jail.

The new strategy focuses on recent research which showed the extent to which traumatic childhood experiences can impact on future offending.

It referred to studies which showed that those who had suffered four or more adverse childhood events - including having a relative imprisoned, suffering abuse or being around drug misuse - were 14 times more likely to have been a victim of violence in the past 12 months and 20 times more likely to be incarcerated.

It emphasised that a different approach to youth justice - which focused on early intervention and prevention and trying to keep young people out of the criminal justice system - has contributed to a 78% fall in the number of under-18s convicted since 2006/7.

'The baddest people can change'

Image caption Former prisoner Mark Eardley now works as a chef

Mark Eardley says he started getting trouble when he was seven years old.

Aged 11, he was regularly in trouble with the police.

By the time he was 16 he says he was out of control and was put in care.

And then he says he did one very "stupid thing" and tried to "rob" a shop. He ended up in prison.

But after two months on remand he agreed to take part in Action for Children's Moving On project, which helps get young people into training and work placements.

Mark took part in their 12-week chef training programme.

Now 22, he works full-time as a chef.

He said: "I was a bad lad but look at where I am now. I've got a full-time job. It just shows you. The baddest people can change."

Justice Secretary Mr Matheson said: "Over the last decade Scotland has become a safer place with less crime, including violence, falling drug use, improved fire safety and better support when people are victims of crime or other serious incidents.

"But we strive for greater progress, not least while inequality continues to influence the likelihood of someone being a victim of crime or being drawn into offending.

"This is among the challenges outlined in the vision paper, which also highlights the relatively poor physical and mental health of people in contact with the justice system."

He added: "Our criminal and civil justice system, and the valued professionals who sustain it, are focused on building a safer and a fairer Scotland - protecting the public while supporting individuals and families facing financial, emotional or other crises.

"Our decisive shift in approach to youth justice, intervening earlier and providing multi-agency support, has seen huge falls in youth offending and we continue to draw lessons from that success."

Image copyright PA

The government's new strategy document stated: "We already have a track record in shifting towards prevention, including Scotland's recent success with youth justice.

"But as things stand, the cost of enforcement still outweighs the amount spent by the justice portfolio on primary prevention and early intervention many times over.

"The cost of the criminal justice system itself is about £2.5bn per annum. In times of reduced public spending, a shift towards preventative spending is challenging but is likely to be more effective in the long term."

It also referred to the Christie Commission which found that as much as 40% of all spending on public services is accounted for by interventions that could have been avoided by prioritising a preventative approach.

The report said there needed to be a greater focus on reducing the opportunities for crime and addressing the underlying causes, including doing more to protect children from abuse and neglect and to address mental health problems.

'Early intervention'

Dr Claire Lightowler, director of the Centre for Youth and Criminal Justice (CYCJ), said: "We need to invest in the things that prevent offending in the first place.

"One of the things we need to see from the strategy - if it is going to be truly meaningful - is actual investment in mental health support, in housing, in substance misuse, in the range of factors that there is clear evidence around. These things help prevent offending.

"We need to invest in these kinds of things but that means difficult conversations about where we can cut costs and what does not work, particularly around prisons and the custodial estate, and investing these savings in things that would allow prevention and early intervention in community sentences and youth work and allowing a whole host of things to really do their job."

Scottish Conservative justice spokesman Liam Kerr said: "Increasing focus on crime prevention is important and I welcome that this report seeks to do that.

"That, alongside improved rehabilitation, is clearly the most effective way of reducing crime.

"However, this cannot come at the expense of enforcement and keeping communities safe."

Liberal Democrat MSP Liam McArthur said: "Scottish Liberal Democrats support early intervention with those at high risk of first-time offending and will support the further transfer of resources from ineffective short prison sentences to robust and effective community justice options.

"But SNP ministers need to show they mean business. They could start by immediately announcing a new robust presumption against sentences of less than 12 months."

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