4 Court-based services and social work reports
4.1 There are various tasks associated with providing information and advice to the court, as well as a throughcare service to individuals and their families at the point when a custodial sentence is made. These include:
- oral/written reports and information at the court’s request on specific matters to inform the sentencing process or the decision to remand to custody rather than grant bail
- interviews with individuals and completing a medical mandate where significant medical issues have been highlighted
- diverting people with mental health problems who may be a risk to themselves from a custodial remand, to either hospital or appropriate bail accommodation, where available, for assessment
- interviewing individuals immediately after the court has passed a custodial sentence/remand or a community disposal involving criminal justice social work, in order to further explain the decision of the court and what this means for individuals. Also, establish if any pressing problems should be dealt with immediately, and inform individuals about the availability of relevant social work services
- forwarding relevant information to prisons in the event of a custodial sentence, including details on persons who may pose a risk of harm to themselves and/or others
- representing the local authority criminal justice social work service in the court setting, including, where appropriate, court users' groups and liaising with other professional groups.
4.2 During 2016-17, the courts made 7,000 requests for bail information. Numbers have generally been lower in the most recent four years, compared with the peaks of 2011-12 and 2012-13 ( Table 1). In some cases, bail information requests may result in the use of supervised bail rather than remand. A total of 340 bail supervision cases were commenced in 2016-17, continuing the decline seen over the last five years.
4.3 Same day reports (previously called stand down reports) are either pre-sentence reports or specific sentence reports requested by the court. There were 4,300 such reports provided to the courts in 2016-17, continuing the general upward trend of recent years ( Table 5). Most of this upward trend has resulted from the increase in the number of written reports (up 64 per cent since 2012-13). In 2016-17, there were 19,300 post sentence interviews with people remanded into custody or receiving custodial sentences for the first time. The total number of interviews has fluctuated between around 18,000 and 20,000 in recent years.
Criminal justice social work reports
4.4 The criminal justice social work report ( CJSWR) in its current format was introduced across Scotland from February 2011 to ensure a consistent provision of information, including the social worker’s professional assessment. This report (called a social enquiry report prior to 2011) is intended to assist in the sentencing process and to complement the range of other considerations, such as victim information and narratives from the Procurator Fiscal. In particular, the CJSWR provides information on social work interventions and how these may prevent or reduce further offending. A CJSWR must be requested:
- before imposing a custodial sentence for the first time or where a person is under 21
- when imposing a community payback order with a supervision requirement or level 2 unpaid work requirement (over 100 hours)
- when imposing a drug treatment and testing order.
4.5 The number of criminal justice social work reports submitted (including supplementary reports but excluding letters sent in lieu of reports) rose for the first time in the last seven years, by one per cent to 30,100 in 2016-17 ( Table 1). Despite this, numbers have dropped overall by 20 per cent since 2010-11. This downward trend is broadly in line with an overall fall in court volumes over the period.
4.6 The number of full CJSWRs (i.e. excluding supplementary reports) remained the same (27,000) in 2016-17 as the year before, although 16 per cent lower than in 2010-11 ( Tables 1 & 6). The number of supplementary reports submitted, while still historically low, increased by nine per cent on 2015-16 to 3,100 reports ( Table 1).
4.7 Chart 2 illustrates the patterns of change in full reports since 2010-11. The total number of reports per 10,000 population has fallen by 18 per cent since then. Patterns are similar for males and females but there are notable differences between age groups. Numbers per head of population have fallen by around a third for those aged 30 and under since 2010-11. The largest fall was among the under 18s, reflecting the marked fall in court volumes for this age group.
Chart 2 Number of criminal justice social work reports per 10,000 population by age and gender: 2010-11, 2013-14 & 2016-17
4.8 The pattern of change varied somewhat across local authorities, with half of councils showing an increase in full reports and half showing a decrease between 2015-16 and 2016-17. Further information is provided in the additional datasets which accompany this publication.
Preferred sentencing options
4.9 The criminal justice social work report writer is expected to provide a professional assessment as to the suitability of available sentencing options in terms of maximising the opportunity for the individual to change their behaviour and desist from offending. This analysis is based on the individual’s attitude to offending and motivation to change, as well as risks and needs identified. While the decision on sentencing is for the court to take, the expectation is that the professional analysis will cover substantive issues such as the need for specialist assessment where significant substance use or mental health problems are indicated. There is also the expectation that the report will include an assessment of the suitability or otherwise of the community payback order, including the individual’s motivation to successfully complete the order.
4.10 Forty-five per cent of CJSWRs in 2016-17 recommended the use of a community payback order in 2016-17 ( Table 7). Eighteen per cent recommended a CPO with supervision but not unpaid work, while 15 per cent recommended unpaid work but no supervision.
4.11 Eleven per cent of reports recommended a deferred sentence of 3 months or more and 6 per cent suggested a monetary penalty. Custody was the preferred option in 5 per cent of reports, while 20 per cent of reports suggested some other form of sentence (including a restriction of liberty order or deferment for a drug treatment and testing order assessment). Thirteen per cent of CJSWRs gave no preferred sentencing option.
4.12 The main outcome for 42 per cent of CJSWRs in 2016-17 was a community payback order ( Table 8). Thirteen per cent of reports resulted in a CPO with unpaid work but no supervision, with 12 per cent resulting in an order with supervision but not unpaid work. In 17 per cent of cases, a CPO was given with both supervision and unpaid work.
4.13 Custody was the main outcome for 16 per cent of reports in 2016-17. This proportion has shown a very slight but steady fall over the past five years. The other main outcome categories in 2016-17 were deferred sentence and monetary penalty (8 and 7 per cent of the total respectively).