Vision and priorities for justice announced

Michael Matheson, MSP
Michael Matheson, MSP

An ambitious new strategy to create safer, just and more resilient communities across Scotland was unveiled by Justice Secretary Michael Matheson today.

The ‘Vision and Priorities’ for Justice was launched as demolition work began at Cornton Vale women’s prison and the areas that will host Scotland’s first community-based custody units (CCUs) were announced.

Developed and agreed by the leaders of Scotland’s justice system, and drawing on latest evidence, the Vision paper identifies effective approaches and emerging challenges. A delivery plan, detailing how justice professionals will work with the wider public and third sector to achieve their vision, will also be published annually.

The Justice Secretary 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.

“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.”

The number of under-18s in custody has fallen by around two-thirds (64%) since 2006. The resulting extra capacity at HMP Polmont Young Offenders Institute has allowed many women to be transferred there ahead of Cornton Vale’s demolition – which will make way for a new, smaller purpose-built national facility for around 80 women during 2020.

Mr Matheson said: “While our imprisonment rate – the second highest in western Europe – remains too high, prisons will always be necessary for those who commit the most serious offences, or who pose significant risks to public safety. The Scottish Prison Service is transforming how they work to better rehabilitate those in custody, addressing underlying issues that can often drive their return to jail. With the demolition of Cornton Vale under way, there is no turning back on our plans for a smarter, more progressive approach to managing women in custody, ensuring they are prepared for life after release.

“That is why I am also pleased to announce that the first two community custodial units for west and east Scotland will be in Glasgow and in Fife or Dundee. By housing women in smaller, community-based units closer to their families, and providing additional support to address their needs, such as drug and alcohol advice or mental health support, we can further reduce re-offending – and so keep crime down and our communities safe.”

The new approach to women in custody reflects the key role – highlighted in the Vision and Priorities paper – of wider public services, notably in health but also other areas like parental support, education, housing and employability, in supporting justice partners to deliver on their priorities and achieve the ambition of safer, just and more resilient communities in every part of Scotland.

The Vision and Priorities for justice outlines seven priorities, stating that:

We will enable our communities to be safe and supportive, where individuals exercise their rights and responsibilities

We enable our people, economy and infrastructure to respond to major risk, recover from emergencies and adapt to emerging threats

We will modernise civil and criminal law and the justice system to meet the needs of people in Scotland in the 21st Century

We will work with others to improve health and wellbeing in justice settings, focusing on mental health and substance use

We will work to quickly identify offenders and ensure responses are proportionate, just, effective and promote rehabilitation

We will improve the experience of victims and witnesses, minimising court attendance and supporting them to give best evidence

We will use prison only where necessary to address offending or to protect public safety, focusing on recovery and reintegration.