A request by Boss for information on sentencing in Sheriff Courts broken down by crime and individual court brought some revealing information.
But before I go into it, I'd state that although Arbroath has its share of problems with drink, drugs and anti social behaviour, they are no greater than those faced in any similar sized town in UK and all the necessary agencies are working hard to combat it.
That said, let me set the scene. Arbroath Sheriff Court is an attractive building on Arbroath High Street. Outside the court is a semi circle (facing the door of the court) with public seating and a couple of phone boxes. Unfortunately, this public seating appears to act as a magnet for the accused and their supporters, some of whom often appear under the influence of drink or some other miracle of modern chemistry. It's like circus some days.
Inside the court, justice is done and sentences handed down to those convicted. A look at the sentencing record though hardly fills me with confidence. In eight subjects, ranging from Common Assault to Drunk Driving, Arbroath only exceeds the Scottish average custodial sentence for one of them (theft). In some cases, it's well below the average.
Last year across Scotland, an average of fourteen percent of those convicted of Common Assault received a custodial sentence. In Arbroath, it was only eight percent. Those that were jailed for this, were jailed for shorter periods, and those that were fined received a smaller fine than the national average too.
Another example, Housebreaking a crime which can leave victims with a deep sense of violation and anxiety, and also sees them lose items that they have worked so hard for, attracts a custodial sentence in only thirty six percent of cases against an average of forty five percent nationally. In stark contrast, those living in Fort William will no doubt be cheered by the fact that one hundred percent of convicted burglars were sent to jail. Personally, if some chav broke into my flat and nicked the stuff that I had saved so hard to buy, I'd be looking for the wee shite to be doing time for it. But I guess I'd have to move to Fort William for that.
I appreciate that custodial sentences are not appropriate all the time, and that other punishments have their place, but I'd like to see more punitive punishments handed down that not only reflect the crime, but also take into account the expectations of the community who want to live their lives without fear of becoming a victim, and if they do become a victim, then they want to see realistic punishments handed down for the crime committed against them.
The irony is of course, that when a Sheriff, any Sheriff, sends a criminal to jail, then they are no sooner inside, when Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill and his colleagues are falling over themselves to let them out again.