‘Pressure’ on staff in Fife criminal justice

FIFE CRIMINAL justice staff were put under “significant pressure” by a deluge of court orders.

The phasing out of short-term prison sentences of up to three months, aimed at reducing reoffending, has meant more work for criminal justice social work staff.

As a result of the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010, community payback orders were introduced in February last year.

CPOs were meant to replace probation, community service and supervised attendance orders but. although CPOs saw old court orders decrease in Forth Valley, the same effect was not seen in Fife.

In fact, between July and September last year, supervised attendance orders increased in Fife to 109 compared to 98 in the previous quarter.

In addition, Fife social work staff had 276 CPOs to process during those three months.

A total of 413 court orders were served during the quarter.

Fife Council’s service manager for criminal justice services Bill Kinnear said: “There has been a huge increase in supervised attendance orders.

“The first thing I would do is commend our staff because they have been fantastic under significant pressure.”

Mr Kinnear said unpaid work carried out by offenders had, in cash terms, given Fife communities benefits totalling £750,0000.

According to figures collated by Fife and Forth Valley Community Justice Authority, only 53% of offenders who were given CPOs started unpaid work within seven days of the order being imposed.

Mr Kinnear added: “It’s really important the public get the message that despite the increase in demand staff are working hard and getting more people through orders, granted less quickly, but with more positive impacts for communities.”

A report to Fife and Forth Valley CJA said: “In 2011/12 the overall increase in comparable orders across the CJA was 18.6% — that is an additional 515 community-based disposals — with significant variation between the four Fife and Forth Valley local authorities.

“The increase in Fife was 26%, an additional 361 community orders, compared to only a 9.3% increase, an additional 32 orders, in Stirling.

“In 2011/12 increases in comparable community orders and unpaid work orders were significant and represented added pressure on local authority criminal jstice social work services, especially in Fife where the increased workloads are remarkably high.

“This began to impact on performance in the latter part of the year, with speed and completion rates showing significant drops.”

The guidelines for CPOs state it is important that unpaid work is completed within the shortest possible time without prejudicing an individual’s employment or entitlement to benefits.

The report continued: “On the same date that CPOs were introduced, February 1, 2011, the presumption against the use of short-term sentences was introduced.

“Prior to August 2011, data from the Scottish Prison Service did not split short-term sentences into categories of ‘less than three months’ and ‘from three months to less than six months’.

“Unfortunately, technical issues have meant that SPS has not been able to provide CJAs with data relating to the number of prisoners serving short-term prison sentences since April 2012. It is hoped that this issue will be resolved soon.”