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Discussion paper on...

the proposed Correctional Agency

August 2003


In the 2003 Scottish Parliament Manifesto the Labour Party proposed setting up

"a single agency - the Correctional Service for Scotland - staffed by professionals and covering prison and community based sentences to maximise the impact of punishment, rehabilitation and protection offered by our justice system."

The Partnership Agreement between Labour and the Liberal Democrats states:

"We will publish proposals for consultation for a single agency to deliver custodial and non-custodial sentences in Scotland with the aim of reducing reoffending rates."

The proposals will be in a Consultation Document. It was anticipated prior to the summer recess but didn't appear and is now expected early in the autumn.

With no Consultation Document at present, the constitution, remit and governance of the new Agency are all speculative. This briefing gives a quick summary of the history of the proposals and some UNISON concerns. It also sets out some possible arguments both for and against the proposal - this is purely to inform discussion about how best to approach the forthcoming consultation and parliamentary progress of the Correctional Agency proposals.

Branches are invited to consider the issues raised in this paper and suggest a UNISON position on the proposed Agency, with arguments to counter the Executive's arguments in favour of it. These will be used in the official response to the consultation and any evidence given by UNISON on the Bill.


  • All four main political parties in Scotland want to be seen to be getting tougher on crime and making the public feel safer in their communities.

  • The coalition government has put forward proposals for tackling anti-social behaviour, improving witness protection, making greater use of community-based 'restorative justice' punishments and making the courts system more efficient.

  • Concerns have been expressed about the high rate of re-offending in Scotland: recent Scottish Executive statistics say that 42% of offenders are reconvicted within two years (broken down into 61% of this coming from custodial sentences, 42% from Community Service Orders and 57% from probation).

  • That two different organisations deal with custodial punishments (SPS) and community-based sentences (Criminal Justice Social Work) is seen as a barrier to greater use of community-based sentences.

  • Single agencies are used in other countries - Denmark, Sweden and Canada. It has been argued that those jurisdictions have lower re-offending rates, make greater use of community-based sentencing and have more successful rehabilitation programmes.

Arguments for a Correctional Agency

  • Will provide a seamless transition for offenders sentenced to custodial punishment from prison to community rehabilitation.

  • Avoids duplication of administrative resources between the SPS and criminal justice social work.

  • Criminal justice social work is 100% ring-fence funded by central government anyway so there is a limit to local control at the moment.

  • Will enable greater and more efficient use of community-based restorative justice (which is the key theme of the recent proposals to tackle anti-social behaviour).

  • A new Agency will give a fresh start and help improve public confidence in the criminal justice system.

  • A single agency will improve public protection by removing some of the potential for communication breakdown between the custodial side and the community based side.

UNISON's concerns

  • It merely creates another quango to deal with an area currently under local authority control and is another example of a centralising government removing powers and responsibilities from local control.

  • Although the service funding is ring-fenced local authorities still have discretion over the programmes that can be adopted and the manner of working with other local authority services.

  • The culture clash and different ethos of the prison service and social work.

  • The inevitable disruption that would be caused in the transitional phase between the existing system and the new Agency, which could reduce public confidence in the service, and in the early stages of the new Agency.

  • Is this a way to gloss over a lack of funding for restorative justice and rehabilitation programmes and a way of reducing staffing levels in the interests of 'efficiency'? The Executive have already stated that they do not expect the Correctional Agency to cost more than the current figure for the SPS and criminal justice social work provision, although they do expect additional costs In the transitional period.

Possible lines of attack?

  • What are the real reasons for the high rate of re-offending in Scotland, other than perceived inefficiencies in the current multi-agency set-up? Any examples of funding constraints? Recruitment and retention difficulties? Would a new Agency help or hinder recruitment and retention of staff?

  • What are the real barriers to greater use of community-based punishments and restorative justice? Funding and staffing levels again? A reluctance by courts and Children's Panels to consider them effective punishments?

  • How else can public confidence in the criminal justice system be increased?

  • Find out other organisations' attitudes to the proposals and link in with them if appropriate: Howard League, APEX Scotland, SACRO, Scottish Consortium on Crime and Criminal Justice. None of these organisations have publicly stated their position on the Correctional Agency yet.

Contacts List:

Please submit any comments on this paper to the P&I team:

Dave Watson: d.watson@unison.co.uk

@ the P&I Team
14 West Campbell St
G2 6RX
Tel: 0845 355 0845
Fax: 0141 221 8953



Further Information

Contacts list:

Please submit any comments on this paper to the P&I team:

Dave Watson: d.watson@unison.co.uk

@ The P&I Team
14 West Campbell St
Glasgow G26RX
Tel 0845 355 0845
Fax 0141-307 2572