Criminal Justice Set to Change in Scotland – But Are Community Sentences Too Expensive to Work?

Changes in community sentences planned by the Scottish National Party’s Kenny MacAskill have come under fire due to the unprecedented cost they will take to implement. But at a time when criminal justice at community level is clearly due for reform (according to the government at least), are the proposed plans really too expensive to work?

The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) argue that they are. COSLA was established in 1975 in order to be the representative voice of Scottish local government, whilst it also acts as the employers’ association on behalf of all Scottish councils. Subsequently, if there is a cause for common concern, COSLA is forum in which it can be discussed, acting as a mediator between local councils, Scottish government and Brussels.

According to the Scottish Sunday Mail (online), a spokesman for COSLA, Harry McGuigan, spoke out against MacAskill’s and the SNP’s plans. He said: “This legislation is wrong, costly and MacAskill is living in fantasy land if he thinks he can up conjure up the cash to fund this dangerous pie in the sky plan. I do not think the bill will work if the necessary resources are not in place.”

The newspaper upheld this criticism, highlighting that 14,686 jail sentences of six months or less were given between 2006 and 2007. The average price of each community order proposed by MacAskill and the SNP is said to be £2,184 meaning that if the equal amount were to be given under the new plans the overall cost would be £32 million.

However, a spokeswoman for the Scottish government commented: “We’ve made a reasonable assumption of a 10-20 per cent increase in community sentences, provided an extra £2million to bolster criminal justice social teams who deliver community sentences and intend to further boost funding – but this isn’t a job for government alone. It’s for all agencies to grasp this opportunity and ensure less offending.”

The success of the change in Scottish criminal justice remains to be seen. The plans also follow recent reports of high levels of organised crime in the country, where 25 significant gangs were said to be operating in the north.