Scots have spoken of their fear and helplessness dealing with the difficulties of the justice system in our new research: Rules for Them and Rules for Us.
The experiences also bring to life Community Justice Scotland’s Navigating Scotland’s Justice System digital resource which shows the different routes and outcomes individuals may face.
CJS Improvement Lead Samantha Reekie, said: “We hope that sharing these findings will shine a light on the difficulties people face in our justice system and will lead to more support for individuals to help change their behaviour and make Scotland safer for all.
“Our research maps real-life experiences against the complex process of the justice system in Scotland. It’s clear that navigating the system is difficult for so many people, the majority of whom already face significant challenges in their lives.
“Every participant in our research reported that they found the complexities of the justice system difficult to navigate. Several people thought that their outcome was due to luck rather than an effective process. But those who felt they were able to be more actively involved in what was happening in the system felt more positive and in many cases this motivated them to make changes to their lives.”
The Rules for Them and Rules for Us research highlights the way some people can feel they’re treated differently when coming into contact with the legal process.
One 53-year-old woman who was found not guilty at Sheriff Court described to researchers how she felt after she was arrested. “I felt degraded, humiliated, dirty, I was sobbing. I hadn’t stopped crying for hours on end… I would say I did feel traumatised by it.”
She feared she’d lose everything. “I could have lost my job, and it was the one thing that I had worked all my life for… the one thing that I thrived on was suddenly being hammered, chiselled, smashed, from every different angle that I knew. The charges, the police, the courts, potentially losing my livelihood, my job, my career, my home, my respect from my colleagues, my family, my friends. It was my whole life, basically.”
Some described how they didn’t understand some of the legal jargon used, such as a letter to be assessed by social work for a ‘direct measure’ – meaning they could receive a warning, fine or community work rather than going to court, as a so-called diversion from prosecution.
A 39-year-old man who went through this process explained: “I’m not really good at reading. I didn’t have a clue. I’ve never had anything like this before. When I read ‘diversion’, I thought ‘what’s a diversion?’”
Some described how the help they’d received broke the cycle of offending. “I’ve realised my mistakes and what I’ve done,” explained one.
Experiences of poverty, crime, trauma, unstable relationships and destructive coping mechanisms were interwoven with many of the stories told.
And some explained how the challenging environment they grew up in made it difficult for them to take a different path in life. One explained: “The jail doesn’t do nothing to you, it’ll take anybody, it just stops time. So as soon as that gate opens, you just go back to exactly what you were doing before you went in.”
But there were many positives from supervision support through a Community Payback Order (CPO). One woman explained: “They helped me with my house and that, put me in touch with people to come and help me sort my gas and electric. Anything that I needed, they helped me with that. The people here, they actually care about you.”
Samantha from CJS added: “In mapping out and exploring the complexities of the justice system, we can highlight the ways in which people experience these processes with a view to making targeted improvements going forward. But we must also consider how we can better support individuals at all stages to take ownership of their journey and view themselves as participants rather than mere subjects of the justice process in Scotland.”