We spoke to Sheriff John Cook, who explained more about Edinburgh’s problem-solving court.
The Alcohol Problem-Solving Court (APSC) was established in Edinburgh in February 2016 and headed up by Sheriff Frank Crowe. The court, which has now been taken over by Sheriff John Cook, helps adult men who have a pattern of alcohol-related offending. Such offending, mostly at summary level, has caused them to frequently appear in court. The Edinburgh APSC seeks to provide alcohol-dependent offenders with quicker assessments, speedier access to interventions, and regular oversight by the Sheriff through progress reviews.
How it works
Potential offenders are identified at court by a sheriff or by the Criminal Justice Social Worker (CJSW) and their sentence is then deferred for one week while they are provided with an expedited CJSW report which assess their eligibility for the service. Offenders who are admitted to the ASPC receive a Community Payback Order of 12 to 18 months’ duration, which incorporates addiction treatment counselling from a third-party (the substance misuse treatment charity Change Grow Live), and support with additional needs such as mental health. Cases are supervised by the CJSW while the addiction workers are the primary point of contact for the offender. They report progress and compliance to CJSWs who then prepare reports for the six-weekly court reviews. Sheriff Cook conducts all reviews which ensures continuity as well as the opportunity to discuss progress made or any issues with compliance directly with the offender. The court has a caseload of between 15 and 20 at one time.
Non-compliance may lead to an immediate sanction with the judge ordering the offender to be remanded for one night in custody following a hearing, or he might instruct the CJSW to submit a breach report to indicate that the offender has been unable to complete the programme. Those who complete the programme attend a final review with Sheriff Cook where they are given the opportunity to discuss their progress, their views on the programme and any plans for the future. Sheriff Cook speaks positively about this meeting as a final opportunity to congratulate the offender on his achievements and encourage continued progress once the programme finishes.
One of the key elements to the programme’s effectiveness, according to Sheriff Cook, is its immediacy. Once he informs them of their eligibility for the scheme, they are sent immediately to meet with the CJSW, and are given an appointment for a full assessment. For individuals with chaotic lifestyles and insecure accommodation, sending appointment letters for a couple of weeks’ time can lead to missed appointments and missed opportunities. Another important feature is the collaboration with local agencies to deliver additional support services. Local partners such as Change, Grow, Live and ELCA Counselling Service provide counselling and addiction support at local community hubs which means participants do not need to travel far for appointments and therefore makes engagement easier. Sheriff Cook highlights the community aspect of the scheme, as well as having clear communication about what is required of the offender from the outset as essential components that support the programme’s success.
A qualitative evaluation of the court was published in 2018 and although it is difficult to determine success with a small and complex cohort, feedback from staff and participants has been positive. Participants have been supported to improve their health, mend family ties, gain accommodation and return to work. Staff noted some initial challenges and recommendations for refinements to the APSC process including greater clarity on the programme aims and inclusion criteria, and a shared process for managing the data. A revision to the assessment process was also recommended to ensure participants were motivated to change.
The APSC has managed to provide a bridge from alcohol related offending and drinking to access to NHS controlled detox and NHS 12 week support at the Lothian and Edinburgh Addiction Project (LEAP). Local partners report that they are pleased with the APSC to date and this is evidenced in the expansion of the service to Mid Lothian, with a potential further expansion to East Lothian in time.
This case-study was compiled by Suzanne Smith in 2020