Over the last ten years, under an SNP Scottish Government, Scotland has become a safer place. Yet we continue face challenges, not least the impact of inequality on the likelihood of someone to be a perpetrator or victim of crime. That’s why we remain absolutely committed to reducing inequality, tackling crime and reforming our justice system.
Over the past three years I have worked to build on the progress we have made to reduce crime. Crime is now at the lowest level for 42 years, violent crime and homicides are both down by more than half and crimes of handling offensive weapons are down by 69 per cent.
This has only been possible because of the hard-work and dedication of our police. In the face of cuts to Scotland’s budget from Westminster, we’ve increased the number of police, while numbers have fallen in England and Wales.
And we will ensure they continue to have the resources they need to continue to keep us safe. Between now and the next Scottish election we will protect the police revenue budget in real terms – that means an extra £100 million of investment over five years.
As the nature of crime changes so must our police services. That’s why we will ensure that police have the right mix of specialists to tackle the crimes we face in the 21st century such as cybercrime and fraud. Earlier this year Police Scotland and the Scottish Police Authority published Policing 2026 – an ambitious strategy for the future of policing. It includes commitment to new ways of tackling cyber-crime, greater emphasis on dealing with issues related to vulnerability and mental health, building on community relations, and much more.
Investment in reducing crime must go hand in hand with action to reduce reoffending. In Scotland the re-offending rate is already at the lowest it has been for 18 years. If we are to continue to make progress, the evidence points towards more community sentences and fewer ineffective short-term prison sentences.
Earlier this year our new national agency, Community Justice Scotland, began its work to support our new approach to community sentences. The new model will ensure community sentencing options remain effective and that they gain the confidence of communities.
Our new vision for justice, published just this week, will see more focus on early intervention to improve life chances to prevent people committing crimes. And earlier this year I announced £3 million for community sector organisations to halt the cycle of reoffending through early intervention, employment training and support for families.
Our commitment to effective community sentencing and early intervention has also meant that we have reduced the number of young people aged under 18 in our prisons by two-thirds compared to 2006.
And we are fundamentally changing our approach to prison policy when it comes to women offenders too. One of the first decisions I took as Justice Secretary was to halt plans for a new female prison and instead replace Cornton Vale with five new community units. This week we marked a new milestone in this landmark change as the demolition of Cornton Vale began.
This progressive approach, based on the best available international evidence, will reduce reoffending and support rehabilitation, providing support to help women offenders overcome issues with alcohol, drugs, mental health and domestic abuse trauma.
We’ve also taken strong action to tackle gender based violence. Last month my colleague Angela Constance, the Equalities Secretary, set out a new draft action plan to implement our strategy for eradicating violence against women and girls. And this year we will spend a record amount of almost £33 million to tackle the issue.
We have already improved access to justice for survivors of domestic abuse, now we have introduced a Bill that will, if passed, create a specific offence of domestic abuse, covering not only physical abuse but also psychological abuse, coercive and controlling behaviour.
The vision of a fairer justice system in Scotland that we have taken forward over the last 10 years has not only kept our communities safe but has reflected the modern progressive nation we seek to deliver. That’s the job we continue to do today.
Michael Matheson is Cabinet Secretary for Justice.