Justice Secretary visits Aberdeen problem solving court

A pilot court project in Aberdeen that sees sheriffs tackle the reasons behind persistent offending has been hailed as “pioneering” by Justice Secretary Michael Matheson (pictured).

Since November 2015, sheriffs in Aberdeen Sheriff Court have been involved in identifying support for the chronic issues or chaotic lifestyles that can cause offending, as part of the sentencing process. This can include help with housing, or access to drug and alcohol treatment services.

The pilot originally dealt exclusively with women who persistently commit lower level crimes and have complex needs, but was extended in August to men aged 16-25 with a similar pattern of offending.

More than 20 women and five men have been supported through the scheme, which will be reviewed next year.

Speaking after a visit to Aberdeen Sheriff Court yesterday, Mr Matheson said: “I am delighted to meet the sheriffs, Crown and court staff who have dedicated their time to putting this pioneering project into action.

“This is about recognising that by addressing the serious underlying issues facing some of those who commit crime, we can change behaviour and reduce the chance they will reoffend. Uniquely, this approach makes a direct link between the court and the right services, like housing, substance misuse support and healthcare.

“We have already had very encouraging feedback from local services, demonstrating it is helping address the causes of offending. While we may only be dealing with small numbers so far, this is a trial to test whether that works for Scotland’s justice system more broadly.

“The Problem Solving Court is one part of our wider effort to reduce reoffending and prevent future damage to families and communities by providing support to help people rehabilitate.

“Evidence shows that community sentences are far more effective than short term prison sentences in reducing reoffending. Reconviction rates in Scotland have reached a 17 year low, which shows we are heading in the right direction, supported by projects like this.”

Sheriff Principal Derek Pyle added: “The Aberdeen sheriffs have welcomed the opportunity to test the problem solving court model in a Scottish context.

“It complemented their drive for efficiencies within the court system to ensure that the victims of crime saw an early conclusion of the justice process and that the offender’s conduct was addressed in a direct way to avoid the pattern of repeated criminal behaviour.

“The hope is that the Aberdeen experience will act as an effective model for the reduction of crime across the country.

“It also complements the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service’s policy – supported by the Scottish Government – for the establishment of Justice Centres, the first one being in Inverness. A development which ensures that the north of Scotland is in the vanguard of creating a national justice system fit for the 21st century.”