Monday, November 05, 2007

Community Court for Glasgow

Scotland's first 'community court' is in the works for Glasgow's east end, the result of a working group made up of sheriffs, procurators fiscal, police & officials ...

The Herald reports :

‘Court of second chances’ coming to Glasgow

LUCY ADAMS, Chief Reporter

Scotland's first community court, based on a radical US model that works by giving offenders education, drug programmes and reparation orders rather than prison, is being planned for Glasgow's east end.

A working group made up of sheriffs, procurators-fiscal, police and officials has been developing the plan in secret during the past few months.

The aim is to create a court based on Red Hook Community Justice Centre in New York, which is known as the court of second chances.

The group was established under the previous Scottish Executive but has continued to meet under the new government and it is thought ministers are keen on the idea.

The group is looking at making someone of "stipendiary magistrate" level the judge for the project, to keep the costs as low as possible. The site chosen for the court is Bridgeton in the east end.

Sheriffs, judges, officials and the current lord advocate have all visited the community court in Red Hook.

It is a one-stop shop housing drug treatment services, domestic violence counselling, job training and a medical unit, all of which is made available to victims and offenders. The project also includes a youth court, where teenagers are given the opportunity to judge their peers.

However, the judge at Red Hook also deals with prostitution, neighbour disputes, minor drug offences, graffiti and assault. It is this focus on lower level crimes which is thought to be particularly applicable to Scotland.

Initial studies indicate it has already reduced crime in what was once one of the most dangerous areas of New York.

The community court offers minor offenders the opportunity to change their behaviour through anger counselling, education, training and community work.

Community sentences and treatments are handed out almost immediately and overseen by volunteers. Those failing to comply return to court.

A source close to the plans in Scotland said: "They are looking at making someone of stipendiary magistrate equivalence the judge for the court to try to keep the costs down."

Julius Lang, director of national technical assistance at the Centre for Court Innovation, the think-tank behind the New York community courts, has met with Scottish officials to explain the process.

Last night he said he had advised the Scottish working group in the past.

Mr Lang said: "Scotland is ripe for change and there is a lot of energy around adapting the community court model to deal with Scottish problems. We want to work with them and be as helpful as possible."

The Scottish legal system has experimented with ideas similar to community courts, with youth courts, drug courts, domestic violence courts and weapons courts.

However, Kenny MacAskill, the Justice Secretary, has already made it clear that he wishes to lock up less people and place a greater emphasis on effective and visible community disposals.

A spokesman for the Scottish Government said: "Any centre in Glasgow would have to fit in with the Scottish summary criminal justice system and meet the specific needs of the community in which it was located. A final decision will be made in due course."

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