Structured Deferred Sentence in Hamilton Court

A Structured Deferred Sentence (SDS) is an interim disposal option established at the Hamilton and Lanark Sheriff Courts for 16-21 year olds who are not suitable for remittance back to the Children’s Hearings System.

In 2017, South Lanarkshire Justice Services (SLJS) recognised that the traditional Community Payback Order (CPO) for young people failed to meet their needs or adequately address underlying issues. The CPO was ineffective in addressing these young people’s problems and reducing reoffending. Further, the CPO was unable to address the violent and antisocial behaviour of many of the young people who participated. Many of these young people also reported deprivation whilst on the CPO.

In recognition of this, SLJS set up the SDS as part of South Lanarkshire’s Whole System’s Approach (WSA). The design of the SDS draws on evidence provided by Robinson, Leishman and Lightowler (2017) which found that young people who are looked after or formerly looked after and accommodated are over-represented in the justice system. The SDS is designed to be an intensive social work support that offers young people the opportunity to address underlying problems. This programme also places necessary emphasis on education/training and employability support.

How SDS works

The eligibility criteria for the SDS are:

  1. Young person prosecuted on summary complaint in Hamilton sheriff court;
  2. South/North Lanarkshire Council permanent resident aged 16-21;
  3. Young person not suitable for remittal to the Children’s Hearing System for disposal;
  4. Young person with established patterns of current and previous offending histories;
    1. Lack of previous convictions or pending breaches are not an automatic exclusion indicator for the Structured Sentencing Court for Young People
  5. Young person who is not on existing Community Payback Order with Supervision. A person on Community Payback Order with unpaid hours is not excluded;
  6. Young person assessed by social workers as being of medium to high risk in relation to needs/reoffending/custody rating using specialised risk assessment tools.;
  7. Young person who is motivated to address their offending behaviour and who might benefit from the Structured Sentencing Court for Young People with its progress reviews.

For the eligible young person, an action plan is designed that aims to engage with them. Such plan will be tailored to meet their individual needs, based on their risk/needs as assessed by appropriate risk and need assessment tools.

The action plan supports the young person for three to six months. During this time, their case is deferred and the young person is given a chance to show improvement through finding employment or employment skills, education and willingness to reduce violence.

With the action plan, a worker will be allocated to the young person during the period of deferment and will, where possible, review the young person’s progress every 4 weeks and provide reports and recommendations to the Sheriff. The worker helps the young person by: directly addressing the issues with involvement in offending behaviours; engaging in individual work with them; and referring them to agencies that could help to address underlying issues, for example around employability, substance misuse, health and accommodation.

The Structured Sentencing Court for Young People (SSCFYP) meets at the Hamilton Sheriff Court once per fortnight to decide eligibility and disposals for SDS participants. It is led by the sheriff.

Where a young person engages with the action plan during the period of deferment, the sheriff will take this into consideration when making their final disposal which could be that the young person is admonished.

Progress of the SDS so far

Between April and December 2018, 21 young people engaged in the SDS pilot. Results from the mid-term evaluation were successful and this was due to the welfare-led approach that underpinned the project. So far, eight young people have received complete admonishment after completing their SDS, two were removed due to non-engagement and given a deferred sentence and ten are currently ongoing.

In general, 90% of young people who have engaged with the pilot did not reoffend during their engagement. The pilot also had an 86% completion rate which is significantly higher than the CPO for young people.

Further evaluation has shown that the SDS has contributed significantly to the decrease in the number of CPOs from September 2018 onwards. The SDS also has the potential to shift the focus of the CJS from punishment to reducing re-offending, in keeping with the WSA to young people who have offended in Scotland.

The feedback from young people who have participated has also been very positive. They have specifically praised the workers for helping them to address their underlying problems.

Whilst the SDS is still a new programme, there are very positive signs that show that the programme is worth continuing.


This case-study was compiled by Michael Farinu in 2019