Innovative approach to repeat offending shows promise

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An innovative approach to dealing with repeat offenders in Aberdeen Sheriff Court has the potential to benefit other areas, after a new report published today said it “shows promise”.

The Aberdeen Problem-Solving Approach (PSA) aims to reduce the use of custodial sentences, and cut reoffending, by addressing the underlying problems linked with persistent offending.

An independent review of the initiative - commissioned by the Scottish Government and carried out by Ipsos MORI Scotland and the University of Stirling/Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research - found that it “shows promise”.  It recommends that other areas of Scotland consider setting up similar initiatives.

While some specialist courts focus on a particular type of crime or problem, such as domestic abuse or drug use, the Aberdeen PSA is the first of its kind in Scotland to specialise in women and young men with multiple complex needs and a history of frequent low-level offending.

Instead of being sent to prison, participants are given a deferred sentence while they engage with social workers and support workers to address the underlying problems linked to their offending. They also return to court regularly to have their progress reviewed by a Sheriff, who provides praise, warnings and encouragement as appropriate.

The researchers found that overall, professionals were very positive about the approach – but reported that it was less successful for people with more entrenched problems and those who were not yet ready to change.

The report highlights the positive outcomes reported by participants - and backed up by professionals - including reductions in reoffending and substance use, and improvements in mental health and wellbeing, social skills and relationships, and housing situations.

It’s too early to say what the longer term outcomes will be, and the numbers are still small, but the fact that over half of participants were not in custody by the end of their involvement in the Problem Solving Approach is very encouraging.

Lorraine Murray, Research Director at Ipsos MORI

Head and shoulders shot of woman in red top
Dr Hannah Graham
Senior Lecturer in Criminology at the University of Stirling
This problem-solving justice approach works with people with complex needs who commit frequent low-level crimes.

Dr Hannah Graham, Senior Lecturer in Criminology at the University of Stirling, said: “This problem-solving justice approach works with people with complex needs who commit frequent low-level crimes.

“The data shows these participants have encountered multiple adversities - for example, financial difficulties, homelessness, bereavement, being care experienced - and many of them live with mental illness, trauma, abuse and addictions.

“These people are in and out of court, often being given short prison sentences, without the underlying issues associated with their crimes being addressed. This approach seeks to do that – work collaboratively with them to address the issues contributing to repetitive cycles of crime and punishment, so that they can move on with their lives.

“Our review found the Aberdeen problem-solving approach is working well, its emerging outcomes are promising and other parts of Scotland should consider following its lead.”

The report was launched in Edinburgh today.

Initiatives such as the Aberdeen Problem Solving Approach are a great example of the work being done across the country to help individuals caught in the cycle of reoffending to turn their lives around. 

Reconviction rates are at a 19 year low and we continue to take an evidence-led, collaborative approach to create a just, safe and resilient Scotland. While the numbers involved are small, we hope that the Aberdeen PSA and the report published today contributes to learning for those considering adopting a problem solving approach.

Ash Denham, Minister for Community Safety

Background information

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