Once a criminal …

Photo by GRAS GRÜN on Unsplash

… always a criminal?

That’s a very good question. Do we lock people up and throw away the key with all the cost implications for society or do we need new and bolder approaches to deal with this age old problem?

Do we stigmatise or brand people as criminals for life or, as a society, are we serious about rehabilitating members of the community who fall into lives of crime?

Obviously, there is a tension here: we have to balance the interests of victims of crime and giving people who commit crimes the chance to reform. No one is pretending that this will be easy.

In a previous blog (Crime and … kindness? published on 12 March 2019), I commented on a story which reported the visit to Scotland of two American judges who were very keen to promote new approaches to criminal justice in order to cut rates of reoffending.

The two American judges were keen to emphasise that there should be more compassion in the criminal justice system when dealing with offenders. They both pointed to impressive results in the United States – a New York court alone has seen a dramatic decrease of 20% in youth crime and a 10% reduction in crime overall by using radical methods to deal with offenders. One of the judges, Ginger Lerner-Wren established one of the first mental health courts anywhere in the world. The aim of this court (based in Florida) was to promote treatment of offenders as an alternative to traditional forms of punishment. The second judge, Judge Pratt, on the other hand, specialises in “procedural justice”.

She explained to BBC Scotland what was meant by the term “procedural justice”:

“… that if people before the courts perceive they are being treated fairly and with dignity and respect, they’ll come to respect the courts, complete their sentences and be more likely to obey the law.”

In Scotland, the Children’s Hearing our Panel system has been held up as a shining example of an approach taken by the State when dealing with young people who have broken the rules of society. Keep children out of the criminal courts and you may have more of chance of getting them back on track so that enter adulthood as law abiding citizens. Brand them as criminals from a young age and you may well set them on a path from which there is no return.

So, it was with some interest that I read about a novel approach taken by the Police in The English city of Bristol for dealing with young people who had been involved in dealing in drugs in attempt to promote rehabilitation and cut reoffending rates.

In an initiative called the “Call-In-Scheme”, Avon and Somerset Police are targeting first offenders aged between 16 and 21 who have been caught dealing drugs. The choice: go to court, be convicted with all the consequences this outcome will entail or go straight. Participants in the scheme will be selected by a panel.

How do you incentivise or encourage people to break patterns of criminal behaviour? Well, offer young offenders free driving lessons, job opportunities and even fitness classes.

The scheme will not apply to individuals who have committed sexual or violent offences or those have relevant, previous convictions for drug offences.

Will it succeed? Watch this space …

A link to the story as reported in The Independent can be found below:


Copyright Seán J Crossan, 30 August 2019

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A legal blog by the author of Introductory Scots Law: Theory & Practice (3rd Edition: 2017; Hodder Gibson) Sean J. Crossan BA (Hons), LLB (Hons), MSc, TQFE I have been teaching law in Higher and Further Education for nearly 25 years. I also worked as an employment law consultant in a Glasgow law firm for over a decade. I am also a trade union representative and continue to make full use of my legal background. I am a graduate and postgraduate of the Universities of Dundee, London and Strathclyde. Please note that this Blog provides a general commentary about issues in Scots Law. It is not intended as a substitute for in-depth legal advice. If you have a specific legal problem, you should always consult a suitably qualified Scottish solicitor who will be able to provide you with the support that you require.

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