From 2009/10 figures, whilst 13 out of every 100 convictions led to a prison sentence, 87 did not. Fourteen were given a Community sentence, up one from last year, and 59 received a financial penalty (down three). Most of the remaining fourteen were mainly admonishments. About 1.5% of financial penalties are compensation orders. The volume of community sentences rose by 7% and prison by 1%.
A range of community penalties are available to the courts: probation orders, community service orders, supervised attendance orders, drug treatment and testing orders and restriction of liberty orders. Some of these orders, for example probation, can include conditions such as attendance on treatment programmes. The new Community Payback Order, which came into effect from 1 February 2011 will provide for a range of up to nine new requirements within the order:
(a) an offender supervision requirement,
(b) a compensation requirement,
(c) an unpaid work or other activity requirement,
(d) a programme requirement,
(e) a residence requirement,
(f) a mental health treatment requirement,
(g) a drug treatment requirement,
(h) an alcohol treatment requirement,
(i) a conduct requirement.
A low level unpaid or activity requirement may be given without a supervision requirement, but for all others, supervision will be part of the order.
The general decline in the number of social work disposals in 2009-10 is in contrast to the upward trend in recent years. However, the national statistics conceals significant variations at local level – with quite different local trends and patterns probably reflecting differences in resources and practices. For example, the overall national decline in SAOs is attributable largely to recent changes in practice in Glasgow’s Stipendiary Court.
Given the Government’s emphasis on seeking to reduce the prison population by promoting the new Community Payback Order, the overall decline in social work disposals might seem concerning. However, the decline in the total numbers of social work disposals only represents a problem for the Government’s reform programme if their ‘share’ of all disposals is declining while the prison ‘share’ of disposals is rising. This does not appear to be the case . It may be that reductions in crime and in the numbers of cases coming to court for sentence (for example due to the increased use of diversion from prosecution), could account for the reduction in demand for social work disposals.
Clearly it remains important to ensure that social work disposals (and in particular the new CPO) are appropriately resourced, promoted and targeted, in order to contribute to reducing Scotland’s over-reliance on imprisonment, but other ‘upstream’ diversion measures, and the appropriate use of non-supervisory sanctions (fines, admonitions, etc.), also remain important to that end. In this respect, the long term (and continuing) decline in the use of fines probably represents a more significant problem.