Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Law & Order : MacAskill shelves introduction of community courts over cost fears

Justice Secretary MacAskill is in the firing line again over his latest failure on reforming the courts system, as the plans to introduce American style community courts is scrapped

The Herald reports :

MacAskill under fire after US-style court plan is dropped

BRIAN CURRIE April 21 2009

Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill has lost all credibility on reforming Scotland's courts after ditching plans to introduce a US-style community-based programme, according to opposition parties.

Labour, Tory and LibDem spokesmen and a prisons expert accused Mr MacAskill of failing to learn from the success of community courts which give offenders education, drug programmes and reparation orders rather than sending them to jail.

He had planned to set up the courts in Glasgow's east end but, as The Herald reported yesterday, he shelved the scheme, based on the Red Hook Community Justice Centre in New York, because it was too expensive.

Labour's justice spokesman Richard Baker led the criticism claiming it was a "huge blow" to government plans to scrap sentences of six-month or less.

He said: "If the SNP is serious about community sentences it's about time they supported approaches to community sentences with cash. Until they do that it's obvious that all they are doing is trying to provide justice on the cheap.

"This decision by Kenny MacAskill shows the recklessness of his plans to scrap sentences of less than six months when he's not prepared to invest in tough and effective community sentences or disposals.

"When the Prisons Commission made their recommendations it was on the basis of extra investment in such schemes and holding up Red Hook as an example.

"Now under the SNP the pilot of this project has been scrapped. This leaves Mr MacAskill and his plans with no credibility whatsoever."

Mr Baker said the decision followed a failure to roll out Youth Courts, cutbacks in the number of Drug Treatment and Testing Orders and record numbers of breaches of community sentences.

"Kenny MacAskill needs to scrap his soft-touch plans to end prison sentences of less than six-months immediately," he said.

Tory spokesman John Lamont said the community courts would have been an opportunity to create a "fresh and alternative" approach.

"The SNP's blinkered approach to justice with their desire to create a soft-touch Scotland means they are failing to recreate good practice and learn the lessons of success stories in other countries.

"Based on the evidence from New York, the US Community Courts could have dramatically reduced the re-offending rates thereby cutting the cost to the taxpayer.

"The Scottish Government is very foolish as it is not only failing to look at long-term savings to the taxpayer during these times of economic difficulties but also failing to protect the people of Scotland."

LibDem spokesman Robert Brown said he was both "astonished" and "deeply disappointed" by the decision.

It was an "innovative project" with huge potential gains for the local community in Glasgow's east end, he said.

"Community courts were to be a key component for introducing community sentences, which we all know are more effective at tackling the root causes of crime than expensive and ineffective short-term prison sentences.

"Everybody knows that there is an urgent need for sentencing reform. Ministers must now explain what their Plan B is."

Clive Fairweather, the former chief inspector of prisons in Scotland, was disappointed by the decision, but said in a climate of tight budgets it was "understandable".

However, he added: "There's no doubt in my mind that this is a good way, that's been proven abroad and elsewhere, of getting the community involved in what we're all facing, which are nuisances and minor offences that are better dealt with through the community rather than clogging up the main courts and clogging up the prisons."

The court was expected to cost £3.7m to build and a further £4.2m to run in its first five years.

A government spokesman said Glasgow City Council and the government were now discussing how some of the benefits the court was designed to bring might still be realised.

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