So that is welcome news about the easing of lockdown restrictions and especially the opening up of travel around the country. I suspect, like me, many of you will have been champing at the bit to get out of our bubbles and start living a more normal sort of existence, albeit one where we still require caution. Indeed, our teams at Apex are working on risk assessments so that we can begin to open up some of the activities which have been confined to online working for some time now. I was particularly struck by the media coverage of the crowds of people celebrating being able to mingle and how there seemed such desperation to get back to doing what they used to do as if nothing had happened. Readers of this blog will know that I have lots of sayings and quotes which seem to stick in my head, and one of the saddest is one which has been attributed to many wise people and it goes like this – ‘History repeats itself because nobody listens’.
It seems that there is such huge pressure to treat adversity or mistakes as something merely to be overcome rather than learned from, and the good intentions expressed during crises can frequently vanish in the euphoria of the post crisis optimism. This is something which we address with those who use our services because it is not enough just to manage a problem, you need to learn from it in order to stop it happening again and it is the basis of desistance, or behaviour change, that Apex is all about.
I have another favourite expression – ‘Do not waste a good crisis’ – and I wonder what we can learn about justice in Scotland from the last year or so? We have seen a huge increase in online service delivery which has not resulted in poorer results than the previous labour-intensive approaches, and the environment will have benefitted from reductions in traditional high carbon activities such as shuttling people from prisons to courts or round the countryside for meetings or work programmes. Courts were shut and policing more focused on community safety and, guess what, the crime rates did not soar, and people do not feel less safe. There has been loads of innovation, particularly across the third sector, and there has been more collaboration between sectors because we have all recognised that we need each other and that during a crisis we must work together and strategically use the resources we have.
But what happens when it all gets ‘back to normal’? Are we just going to revert back to how it was, even though we as a nation lock up a higher percentage of our population than almost anywhere in the developed world (other than the US) and we talk endlessly about prevention but still pour the vast majority of justice funding into archaic and expensive punishments which have very limited evidence of effectiveness? What do we actually want in terms of a justice system for Scotland? Is it one where we warehouse those who are struggling because we either do not know how to manage them or cannot be bothered to find out? Or do we want a system where we can be proud of the fact that Scotland is a country where we encourage and enable everyone to contribute and take pride in our communities?
Personally I hope that, as we enter another election period, we hear vision not for a return to where we came from, but a seizing of the opportunity to do something better. Let’s not waste the crisis, let’s consider what it is we have learned. Let’s not play it safe again but grasp the chance to not just do things differently, but do the absolute best. We can, but it’s going to take leadership, nerve and, most importantly, collaboration if we are going to come out of this with proof that, for once, maybe we did listen and learned.