We spoke with Mark McPaul, Senior Probation Officer in Sefton, about the innovative approach taken in Sefton Magistrates Court and their involvement in the Community Sentence Treatment Requirement (CSTR) pilot programme
Can you explain a little about the approach taken in Sefton and how it came about?
A problem-solving approach to justice was first introduced in the area through the North Liverpool Community Justice Centre (NLCJC), which was established in 2005 and based on the Red Hook Community Justice Center in New York. The Centre was intended to be an innovative court and community initiative that provided greater holistic support to the local people, with its own Judge, as well as representatives from probation, police, CPS as well as other community support services such as housing, drug and alcohol, and mental health teams co-located in the Centre. Although the NLCJC was closed in 2013 due to it being deemed too resource-heavy, much of the innovative practices, such as regular judicial reviews and access to wrap-around support, were still considered to be of great value to court users and as such, were incorporated as much as possible into operations at a District Judge lead court at Sefton Magistrates Court. This led to the establishment of what is now known as the Sefton Complex Cases Court or CCC.
The court is overseen by a District Judge and a key feature of court is the use of post-sentence review meetings for individuals who have received a community sentence. The court holds review court sessions usually two male and one female session every four weeks. Having female-only review courts is important to ensure a gender-sensitive approach for women with female staff present.
These are arranged and held independent from each other to ensure that gender-specialist approaches are taken. Having these review courts is so important to provide people with the opportunity to speak to the judge in a more informal setting and take accountability for their actions and share the progress they’ve made during their sentence. This allows people to develop a relationship with the judge and feel that someone cares about how they’re doing and their achievements, which may seem small but can have a huge impact.
Unfortunately, review hearings have been paused during the Covid-19 pandemic while only essential court services have been allowed, however, we are hoping these will be able to resume in July.
Tell us about Sefton’s involvement in the Community Sentence Treatment Requirement (CSTR) pilots?
The CSTR programme was launched with the aim of increasing the use of existing community sentences for individuals with drug, alcohol and mental health issues, and reduce reoffending by helping people to address their needs. Despite Drug Rehabilitation Requirements (DRRs), Alcohol Treatment Requirements (ATRs) and Mental Health Treatment Requirements (MHTR) being available to sentencers, their use was very low. The CSTR programme was piloted in 5 initial sites, including Sefton, to re-establish the use of these community sentence, which places individuals into treatment as part of the requirements of their community order. Individuals on DRRs and ATRs receive support for their drug and alcohol issues, and the use of MHTRs is designed for low-level mental health needs, based on the Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) model of community mental health teams. The CSTR pilot was integrated into the CCC.
The case list of defendants due to come before the court is reviewed each morning by a number of key professionals including the defence team, legal advisor, mental health advisor, probation and Crown Prosecution Service. Individuals who may be suitable for the programme are assessed for eligibility and flagged to the judge in open court as a case discussed at the morning meeting, who may request a more detailed report before making a final decision. Those who are accepted to the programme receive immediate access to support without going on to a waitlist.
There has been a big impact of the programme locally – there has been a significant increase in the use of DRRs and ATRs, and the use of MHTRs may be particularly important because of the improved access to services. There has also been a massive reduction in the use of custody, estimated at the equivalent of 10 years of custody avoided in Sefton since the pilot began. We want to highlight the benefits of the CSTR programme more widely so that professionals and court users are aware of them, and can check if the programme exists in their local court. We hope to increase knowledge and awareness of the programme through the use of a video, which is currently in development, that will demonstrate the journey of someone from point of arrest through to sentence and initial review and includes interviews with representatives from the Complex Cases Court, probation, mental health services, drug and alcohol services, police, Liaison and Diversion, service user and District Judge.
What is the future of the CSTR pilot and the Complex Cases Court in Sefton?
With the Government commitment to expand the use of CSTRs, the Sefton CSTR must adjust from being a pilot site to integrating this work into its usual court business. One of the biggest successes of the CSTR pilot has been the vastly improved access to mental health services, and it is crucial that this is not lost as the service adjusts. The importance of monitoring staff requirements is one of the key learnings from the pilot as it is essential to have sufficient staff at all times to ensure good service provision with immediate access to support and services.
The steering group, which I chair, is an important opportunity for those involved, particularly those involved in the service delivery, but also delivery partners such as the Offender Health team at HMPPS and the PCC, to meet and discuss progress and this helps to drive the work forward. The excellent standard of service delivery has led to improved confidence in the use of DRRs, ATRs and MHTRs. The service is expanding and we are beginning to take cases from Liverpool Crown Court and Magistrates Court, which will increase the numbers of local people who can benefit from these services. We have also started the process of having the court evaluated by Liverpool Hope University. Although this is a long process, it is a positive step in demonstrating the impact of the court and the work we are doing.