MSPs back ‘transformational changes’ to tackle systemic issues in justice syste

22.11.2021

The Scottish Parliament’s Criminal Justice Committee is calling for comprehensive reforms to be made in the justice system, as well as more money for the sector, ahead of the Scottish Government’s budget next month.

After considering the financial position of the sector, the Committee has concluded that many of the budget challenges in the justice system are symptoms of wider problems that have not been significantly addressed over many years.

While it believes there is a need for greater investment, connected problems such as court backlogs, high numbers of remand prisoners, and overcrowded, outdated jails with ‘revolving doors’ and issues with drugs deaths need to be tackled together with policy-based solutions, as well as adequate funding.

The Committee is calling for joined-up, long-term plans, led by the Scottish Government, and incorporating all the main justice partners to try to address issues including:

• The huge court backlog of around 50,000 cases made worse by the pandemic;
• The size of the prison population, including the number of women in jail and remand prisoners;
• Improving the prison estate;
• Issues in prison such as drug misuse, prisoner and staff welfare, and managing serious organised crime groups inside;
• The need for investment in police and fire services;
• Issues in the legal aid system;
• Support for victims and community justice schemes.

The Committee has suggested that spending on areas such as:

• effective diversion from prosecution or diversion from incarceration schemes for cases where those are appropriate,
• drug recovery cafés in prisons, and
• Throughcare for those leaving prison,

may all help ease pressures in the system, and in time reduce the overall budgetary challenges for the justice sector.

Speaking as the report was launched, Committee Convener, Audrey Nicoll MSP, said:

“We believe that there is a case for further spending to support the justice system to meet the many challenges it is facing.

“However, we recognise that money is not unlimited, and that some of the seemingly intractable issues faced by our courts, prisons and other justice partners will not be fixed simply by loosening the purse strings.

“We believe joined up actions, achieving long term goals such as reducing reoffending, could prove transformational. This would improve outcomes for society as well as the budget for the sector.”

Background

The full report can be found here: Pre-budget scrutiny: priorities in 2022-23 for the Scottish Government's budget in the justice sector 

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