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BY LYNSEY SMITH, Service Manager, Justice Central Services, Glasgow Health & Social Care Partnership  

What is Diversion from Prosecution (DfP)? – Diversion from Prosecution is what is known as an Alternative to Prosecution ‘Direct Measure’.  There are a number of these Direct Measures available to the Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS).  Generally speaking they are used for less serious offences, sometimes referred to as ‘low tariff’ offences (offences that would generally speaking attract a Community Sentence or very short-term prison sentence and can be dealt with outside of the court system).  More information on each of these can be found in the publication ‘A Summary of Community Options’. 

DfP aims to address the underlying causes of offending behaviour through Social Work and other interventions. It also aims to prevent people entering into the formal criminal justice system too early. Evidence suggests that the earlier people enter the criminal justice system, the more likely they will be pushed towards more serious offending.

Because the Community Justice Glasgow Partnership views DfP as a key tool in the arsenal for reducing re-offending, they have been working over the last couple of years to develop and grow the range of services available to deliver DfP Programmes outwith Social Work Services for 16 & 17 Year Olds (young offenders).  

This work has reflected the changing nature of crime types that are being committed by young people.  Partners have worked closely with the Procurator Fiscal Service to build confidence in the new range of services to deal with different types of crime and now have a range of 3rd Sector providers to complement the range of Social Work delivered services for 16&17 year olds. The new arrangements mean that the Social Worker supervising the young person, who has committed the crime, can consider a number of services that can tackle the underlying causes of their behaviour, whilst maintaining overall accountability for delivery of, and compliance with, the DfP.

This has resulted in an increase in the number of referrals for DFP for 16&17 year olds from mid-2019 onwards, and for different types of crime that may not have been considered previously.  For example the total referrals over January, February and March 2019 totalled 21, for the same 3 months in 2020 the total number was 50. These offences would have been unlikely to have resulted in a custodial sentence in the first instance, more likely a community based disposal such as a fine or Community Payback Order would have been imposed, which use up resources that have a higher financial cost to the public purse.  Diversion offers a more cost effective alternative which looks at the offence and underlying issues.

It is still early days, however, this approach is gaining confidence from the Fiscals and showing good successes in tackling behaviours and reducing the risk and incidences of further crimes.

Identified as a priority through the Community Justice Glasgow Collaborative Commissioning work,  we are now working on a similar exercise to improve the offer for Adult DfP and similarly increase the range of services available and confidence of the Procurator Fiscal Service to refer for DfP for a wider variety of crime types.  You can CLICK HERE to read an article setting out progress on Collaborative CommissioningRESPOND OR REACT? – A QUESTION OF TAKING RESPONSIBILITY FOR PUBLIC RESOURCES.

Adult Diversion from Prosecution (DfP) is a key tool for reducing re-offending, with its clear focus on meeting the often complex needs and underlying drivers of offending with unique and individually tailored provision and reducing the risk that people with reoffend.  In Glasgow, over a number of years, referrals to the Criminal Justice Social Work Adult Diversion team, have seen a downward trend (table 1).

After several years of steady growth in the number of people in Glasgow commencing DfP, including women specific diversion programmes, Diversion from Prosecution hit critical numbers for Glasgow, falling from a peak of 324 cases in 2014/15 to 67 cases in 2017/18.

The Scottish Government provides regularly updated unit costs on justice services
.  While the approach of arriving at a unit cost will reflect a broad variance from the mean, and give little indication of individual costs locally, they can provide one helpful means of comparison across justice interventions.  For example, in comparing the national costs of DfP with Court and a potential community sentence (Table 2), as below (May 2018 report based upon data 2015/16 ).

At an event in October 2019
, partners considered broad action in relation to the levers for change identified through previous partnership effort in relation to collaborative commissioning and assigned priority scoring to these.  Since then Glasgow Heath & Social Care Partnership (GHSCP) has met with the  Community Justice Glasgow (CJG) team to conside a practitioner perspectives and discuss specific actions that might help to progress some of the broad actions identified in the DfP (Adult) Improvement Plan.  Subsequently a report and recommendations were made to the Community Justice Partnership Group meeting in February 2020. 

Adult DfP already has a core cohort of services established to address a range of needs, anecdotal information from the work already undertaken to improve referral rates, suggests that there is confidence in these services to deliver effective DfP work.  It was proposed that work be progressed to focus on increasing and maintaining increased referral numbers:

  • Practitioner experience had noted that with the support and the valued commitment of the Head of Case Marking (COPFS), past initiatives, providing input from Criminal Justice Social Work staff to Training & Development sessions for Marking Staff had resulted in upward spikes in referral numbers in the short-term, however the benefit dropped off over time. It was proposed that a continuous programme of planned, regular inputs by Criminal Justice Social Work be scheduled.  Resources to support these inputs, which would ensure a continuing reinforcement of DfP as a valid option and take account of changes in staffing at COPFS, were already developed and subsequently scheduled for delivery over 2020-21.
  • Improved information / data sharing would support the previous recommendation and enhance understanding of the impact of DfP cases, allowing for more informed planning, use of resources and ability to manage spikes in referrals. Early work on this began in 2019-20, again with work progressing over 2020-21.
At the time of writing, good progress has been made in moving towards achieving the recommendations set out above and in other areas of the DfP (Adult) Improvement Plan.  I look forward to reporting on the outcomes of those in our 2020-21 Annual Report.

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