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Briefing onů

The UNISON case against the single 'correctional' agency


June 2004
This briefing is intended to provide Branches and members with an outline of UNISON Scotland's arguments against the creation of a single agency. It also details ways for Branches and members to raise awareness of the 'single agency' debate within their local communities and how to apply pressure on local MSPs to make clear the strength of UNISON opposition to this proposal.


Following on from the Executive's recent consultation on reducing re-offending in Scotland, UNISON is concerned that Ministers remain intent on pressing ahead with plans to create a new single 'correctional' agency merging the Scottish Prison Service (SPS) with Criminal Justice Social Work (CJSW) services.

UNISON Scotland is strongly opposed to the establishment of such a centralised agency to deliver both custodial and non-custodial sentences. It creates yet another quango and removing services from local authority control.

We believe that shoehorning SWCJ services into a single agency will not ultimately reduce re-offending levels nor aid the rehabilitation prospects for offenders.

Why UNISON Scotland opposes the creation of a single 'correctional' agency

1. The policy does not fit the stated objective. There has been no explanation by Ministers as to how creating a centralised single correctional agency will achieve the objective of reducing re-offending rates. The model of an integrated and centrally co-ordinated single agency is one that has been widely rejected throughout the rest of Europe. There is an abundance of evidence, which clearly shows that countries, which have adopted this approach have not reduced re-offending and prison populations have actually increased.

2. Resources will be diverted away from front-line services into an unaccountable quango. UNISON Scotland believes that the establishment of another unelected quango would further weaken local democracy and reduce the involvement of locally elected representatives in the provision of services to offenders. A new quango would also mean the removal of yet more vital services from local democratic control in addition to making it immeasurably more difficult to exploit the close working relationship between the various local authority services.

3. If a single-agency is established and CJSW services removed from local authority control, multi-agency work will be seriously weakened. A vital feature of the current system is the ability of CJSW services to work with other services in the local authority and elsewhere to provide a comprehensive and targeted range of services for offenders. CJSW services work within a multi-agency context with other social work colleagues, including those from children and families and also addictions. In addition they also work closely with the voluntary sector and with other agencies such as housing, health and the police.

4. A single agency will dilute the social work task within the criminal justice system. Transferring CJSW into a 'single agency', where the major emphasis of the work will be on correctional tasks such as monitoring, supervision and punishment, will lead inevitably to a perceived need for less qualified social work staff.


5. There exists a different ethos between the Prison Service and Social Work services. The CJSW workforce is an extremely well qualified and experienced workforce, who have built up excellent local knowledge of the communities in which they work. They work closely with other agencies, view themselves as an integral component of the wider social work service and crucially deliver a 'social work service' within criminal justice.

6. Ultimately, a reduction in re- offending rates will only be brought about by a change in Scotland's sentencing policy. UNISON Scotland believes that the current sentencing regime in Scotland is the single most important factor that must be addressed if rehabilitation of prisoners is to be effective. We know from evidence-based research that short-term custodial sentences do not deter individuals from re-offending, yet in 2002 over 80% of all custodial sentences in Scotland were for terms of 6 months or less. This sentencing regime makes no sense and we believe that the Executive should give proper consideration to implementing more effective and long-term alternatives to short-term prison sentences.

Public Service Networks - a viable alternative to a single agency

If the Executive is successful in establishing a single 'correctional' agency UNISON Scotland maintains that this will damage the effectiveness of our criminal justice system, and the quality of throughcare and aftercare services provided for offenders. There are alternatives to this proposed radical restructuring of Scotland's criminal justice system, which we believe will afford greater opportunities to build offenders capabilities and provide realistic opportunities for moving away from law-breaking lifestyle.

UNISON Scotland believes that rather than forge ahead with a major reorganisation of the entire criminal justice system the Executive should consider creating a Public Service Network similar to that adopted in the Joint Futures programme. This way the SPS, CJSW and other services can be brought together to work more effectively without the kind of upheaval that a full-scale merger would involve. It is obvious that better integration between the agencies involved in providing services to offender's needs to be established.

We believe that a multi-agency partnership approach - a Public Service Network - would ensure a better focus on shared objectives between all the agencies involved in providing these services.

Action for Branches

Use the 'Arguments for Members' leaflet to encourage members - particularly in Social Work - to write to their own MSP outlining their opposition to a single 'correctional' agency. You can discover contact details for your local MSP on the Scottish Parliament website at http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/msps/index.htm

Use your local media, newspapers and radio to argue against the creation of a single agency and to raise awareness of the issue within your local community.

Branches should study proposals for the single agency and be aware of the implications for UNISON members in CJSW services.

Further Info:


UNISON Scotland response to the Scottish Executive's re-offending consultation - http://www.unison-scotland.org.uk/response/reoffend.html

Scottish Parliament inquiry into the rehabilitation of prisoners - http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/justice1/evidence/reh/j104-reh-00.htm



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Further Information


UNISON Scotland response to the Scottish Executive's re-offending consultation -

Scottish Parliament inquiry into the rehabilitation of prisoners - http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/