We need to trust the experts to reform Scotland's justice system - Karyn McCluskey

If you mix public health and politics - you get politics.

We need to be listening to those with experience and knowledge if we are to effect real change
We need to be listening to those with experience and knowledge if we are to effect real change

We only need to look around us to see the evidence of that across the pond. Which is why experts have never been more important in delivering evidence we can trust.

We need experts who operate with transparency, consistency and scientific authority to counter the community suspicion that can occur when the evidence is undermined by replacing one specialist for another who is more likely to back up the political argument of the day. It’s a miracle Dr Fauci has survived so long, I admire his resilience in the face of huge pressure. When elections loom, the water gets even hotter and the rhetoric ever more extreme. The Obfuscator General is sent in to muddy the waters in an attempt to obtain short-term gain as opposed to longer-term wellbeing.

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The same is true of justice. The weaponisation of language and evidence around justice obscures much of the decades of effort and endeavour to find out what works in keeping us all safe and preventing crime.

As we approach December and into next year, I anticipate newspaper stories about hot Christmas dinners in prison, soft touch justice and a push for longer sentences. Justice experts including victims and those who have gone through the system and changed their lives are rarely included in the conversation. At the same time, we will lament homelessness and drug deaths happening around us without realising that they are as integral to the issue of justice as prisons and police numbers.

If we are to move away from the inevitability of an ever-increasing prison population, leaders need to show their commitment to experts and the value they bring. Reimagining a new way of preventing offending based on evidence shouldn’t seem like a high-risk conversation to have in public. Yet experts might be lucky to get invited on to a short three minute radio interview or will have a long conversation chopped back to a small paragraph – almost always as an afterthought to a particularly audacious idea coming out of a political discussion. Those with large social media followings such as Donald Trump with 87 million on Twitter can share their views widely, it’s no surprise that experts sometimes struggle to be heard.

With each passing day, I am increasingly convinced that we need to have a more evidence-based conversation about justice. This deadly serious pandemic has shown just how much we need to change. We need a broad public health agenda around justice that delivers the safer society we desire and not one that gets lost in ideology; it’s too important for that. For that we need information from experts and we need to actively listen and engage. We need to weigh into the issues, informed and confident in the reasons and the impact of change.

Of course, research is an ever-evolving thing and we will know more tomorrow, than we did yesterday. Governments come and go and certainty in anything is for the birds, but if we are truly to change the world around us, we need to begin by trusting in those who dedicate their lives to following the evidence for the benefit of human progression.

Karyn McCluskey is chief executive of Community Justice Scotland

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