Aberdeen Problem-Solving Approach (PSA)

This problem-solving approach, which has been running in Aberdeen Sheriff Court since 2015, seeks to reduce the use of short custodial sentences by providing disposals to women and young men with complex needs and multiple previous convictions.

Problem-solving courts in Scotland

The first PSC in Scotland was established in 2001; the Glasgow Drug Court, which oversees the management of offenders on Drug Treatment and Testing Orders (DTTOs).

However, since the 2012 report of the Angiolini Commission on Women Offenders which suggested that problem-solving approach and courts are promising, there has been an emergence of new PSCs. Scotland now has a small group of established problem-solving courts targeting issues such as alcohol, drugs and/or groups like young people and women.

The Aberdeen Problem-Solving Approach (Aberdeen PSA)

The Aberdeen Problem-Solving Approach (PSA) has been running in Aberdeen Sheriff Court since November 2015 (for women) and since August 2016 (for young men). The PSA seeks to reduce the use of short custodial sentences by providing disposals to women and young men with complex needs and multiple previous convictions. The PSA was set up in response to the Angiolini Commission to help two key groups that it identified as would benefit from a problem-solving approach:

  • Women who are aged over 16, being prosecuted on a summary complaint, have seven or more criminal convictions, are assessed as medium to high risk in relation to needs/reoffending, and are at risk of custody.
  • Young adult men (aged 16-25), being prosecuted on a summary complaint, have seven or more criminal convictions (3 or more for assault convictions), are assessed as medium to high risk in relation to needs/reoffending, and are at risk of custody.

How it works

Potential cases are screened prior to first appearance then they are heard by a specially trained summary sheriff. Hearings take place twice a day and they run on most days. If the offender pleads guilty and the summary sheriff agrees with the plea, an expedited Criminal Justice Social Work (CJSW) report is requested and the case is adjourned for around 7 days. Then the offender is placed on a Structured Deferred Sentence (SDS) with a first review to call in the PSC 4 weeks later.

The SDS lasts for 6 months and offenders must attend weekly CJSW meeting and get an intensive personalised treatment package. Their progress is reviewed in court every four weeks. On successfully completing the SDS, offenders receive an admonition.

Evaluation

In the first 18 months of operation, the PSA admitted 59 clients 35 of which were women and 24 men, of whom 40 have been sentenced to an SDS under the PSC. The PSA has been well received by local partners in Aberdeen and was praised by the Cabinet Secretary for Justice.

A process review by Ipsos Mori Scotland found that:

  • Over half of the participants were not in custody by the end of their involvement in the PSA, an encouraging fact judging by the previous behaviour of these participants.
  • They also found that participants – including those who were back in custody – were overwhelmingly positive about the PSA’s overall impact on their lives. The practitioners shared similar views.
  • Participants self-reported positive outcomes such as: reduced reoffending, reduced substance abuse, improved housing situations, improved mental health and wellbeing, and improved social skills and relationships.

 

This case-study was compiled by Michael Farinu in 2019