Academics have tested out an “innovative” method of lowering re-offending rates at Aberdeen Sheriff Court, by getting criminals to examine the reasons why they break the law.
The Aberdeen Problem Solving Approach aims to reduce the use of custodial sentences to punish wrongdoers, and cut re-offending, by addressing the underlying problems which cause people to fall back into criminal habits.
There are several organisations involved with the project, including the University of Stirling.
Hannah Graham, who is a senior lecturer in criminology at the establishment, explained that the programme focused on women and younger men with “complex needs” who persistently commit “low level” offences.
She said: “The data shows these participants have encountered multiple adversities – like financial difficulties, homelessness and bereavement.
“And many of them live with mental illness, trauma, abuse and addictions.
“These people are in and out of court, often being given short prison sentences, without the underlying issues associated with their crimes being addressed.
“This approach seeks to work collaboratively with them to address the issues contributing to repetitive cycles of crime and punishment, so that they can move on with their lives.”
The findings were published yesterday, as it emerged that the north and north-east had experienced a slight rise in re-offending rates following years of progress.
Highland, Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire, Orkney and Shetland were among six areas of Scotland where the proportion of criminals convicted of another crime increased between 2014-15 and 2015-16.
In the city and Aberdeenshire, re-offending rose from 27.1% to 27.8%, and in Shetland the problem went up from 18.5% to 20.1%.
Under the new scheme piloted in Aberdeen, participants are given a deferred sentence where they are able to discuss their behaviour with social workers.
They also return to court regularly to have their progress reviewed by a sheriff, who provides praise, warnings and encouragement accordingly.
A review commissioned by the Scottish Government suggested that other areas of Scotland consider setting up similar initiatives.
Ash Denham, Minister for Community Safety, launched the report in Edinburgh yesterday.
She said: “Initiatives such as the Aberdeen Problem Solving Approach are a great example of the work being done across the country to help individuals caught in the cycle of re-offending to turn their lives around.”