Power to protect
’Power to Protect’ assesses the problem of crime in Scotland by examining key indicators and the solutions currently in place to address criminal behaviour, compares those crime levels with those in other countries and outlines what lessons Scotland can learn to make the country safer and reduce crime rates.
Despite huge amount of money being spent on criminal justice, Scotland is failing to adequately protect its citizens. However, Reform Scotland argues that with the right policy framework we can bring about a sustained reduction in the crime rate. The report proposes a number of radical policies aimed at increasing the accountability and transparency of the police, prosecution service and courts services.
The recommendations outlined in the report include:
- Greater accountability of the police
Police forces should match up to local authority areas and a councillor should be appointed within each police authority area to be responsible for policing in the same way that currently applies to education and transport. In areas with a directly-elected provost or mayor – as recommended by Reform Scotland in its report ‘Local Power’ – there could be appointed police commissioners. However, Chief Constables would still be in charge of operational matters.
- Judging the police
Regular publication of local crime statistics so the public can judge whether policing tactics and strategies in their areas are effective.
- Judging the courts
Statistics should be published to show the actual number of crimes and offences that are prosecuted and those which result in convictions. At present, only the number of individuals who are prosecuted and convicted is recorded, making it impossible to gauge the real level of crime.
- Directly elect Area Procurators Fiscal
Procurators Fiscal should be directly elected from the areas they serve, similar to the way in which many District Attoryneys in America are elected to office. Such a policy would lead to a far clearer and more transparent system of justice, and could also allow different area Procurators Fiscal to pursue crime in different ways reflecting the problems in their area.
- Sentencing powers
Courts should be given wider discretion when handing down sentences. If the most appropriate sentence is given at the earliest opportunity, this should lead to a reduction in re-offending. The report rejects demands for sentencing guidelines to be introduced.
- No prison sentences of less than three months
There is little point in sending people to prison for sentences of less than three months. As well as costing the taxpayer a lot of money, such sentences offer little time for rehabilitation and can end up pushing a person towards a career in crime and re-offending rather than away from it. Therefore we recommend that courts are no longer able to send people to jail for less than three months in the first instance. However, should an offender breach the conditions of his alternative sentence, the ultimate sanction of jail should still be available.
- No automatic early release
Automatic early release from prison should be scrapped. Any reduction in time served should be as a result of good behaviour only. The report says that once a judge decides on a sentence it should be the responsibility of the State to ensure the sentence is carried out, rather than looking for ways to empty prisons.
- Rehabilitation in prison
Innovative schemes, including involving the private sector in training prisoners in useful skills as well as new financial incentives for prisons and their staff, to lower offending rates.
There are a number of other issues, from family breakdown to drugs abuse, that need to be tackled if crime is to be reduced for the long term. Many of these areas need people to take individual responsibility for their actions. However, the government can help deliver lower crime rates by changing the way services are delivered. By increasing transparency and accountability within the criminal justice system in Scotland innovative ideas, ideas which will vary from place to place, can be developed which can help contribute to a lower overall level of crime. Reform Scotland believes that the policy recommendations outlined in this paper will help deliver such a crime-fighting system.