Reflections on the Justice Portfolio

My 30 year police career started in 1976, in Leith. I vividly recall attending “domestic disputes” and, in line with the accepted practice of the day, advising the usually drunk male to leave the property for the night or find themselves jailed for a Breach of the Peace. I now reflect what a depressingly unsatisfactory problem-creating rather than problem-solving approach I contributed to and how we abandoned women needing our help.

This week I attended the 40th Anniversary of Scottish Women’s Aid, a wonderful organisation which has changed attitudes and moved policing practice to a point where the entire criminal justice system understands the pernicious power struggle that is domestic violence. Of course, there’s still work to be done with rights-based training capable of making the police and judiciary even more effective.

By the 80’s I was a dog handler in Inverness and found myself repeatedly dealing with the same small group of families involved in housebreaking. Children being sent out by parents to break into warehouses to steal food for the family dinner may sound like a tale from sub Saharan Africa, however, that was the reality for some chaotic families who undoubtedly provided challenges for all the public authorities.

Now, collaborative working between agencies and ‘early intervention’ are helping. Sadly, the UK Government’s ‘austerity programme’ isn’t helping and sees families facing decision about heating or eating. A more understanding criminal justice system recognises that, to our eternal shame, people are hungry because of conscious political decisions.

The Scottish Green Party (SGP) will work to tackle the inequality that can lead to crime. We know more equal societies are more successful societies, both economically and socially.

The SGP will work to reduce reoffending, encouraging alternatives to prosecution and non-custodial sentences, such as education programmes, and support an end to costly and ineffective prison sentences of under 12 months.

We support the work of many community organisations, like “Street League” working in Pilton, Edinburgh who use football to give opportunities to young people not currently in Education, Training, or Employment, giving meaning to their day.

Prison should only be used for those who pose a threat to our communities not those whose judgement and actions have been clouded by addiction – something which should be treated as a health rather than justice matter.

I have long admired the work of “Positive Prisons Positive Futures,” “a community of interest which draws upon the shared lived experiences of people who are or have been subject to punishment.”

Their National Co-ordinator, Pete White, is a regular witness at the Justice Committee who has helped inform thinking on and ways of improving the effectiveness of Scotland’s criminal justice system. We fully align ourselves with the organisation’s objectives of reducing the harms caused by crime and supporting the reintegration of those who are or have been subject to punishment.

When it comes to crime I am proud that Greens don’t care about looking tough; instead in the coming election we’ll be arguing for what is proven to genuinely reduce crime – accountable local policing, serious crime prevention, and constructive sentencing and rehabilitation. We must increase support for sustainable and long-term funding for violence against women support and advice services.