Sacro is a Scottish community justice organisation which works to create safer and more cohesive communities across Scotland. Sacro provides a wide range of services spanning all aspects of the community justice continuum. These range from conflict resolution to prevent disputes escalating, to supporting prisoners onrelease.

SCVO has been working with Sacro to deliver Digital Champions training throughout 2019. On a recent visit to Sacro to speak to a few of their mentors we discussed some of the digital challenges and opportunities for individuals in the criminal justice system.

One of the challenges specific to this area of work is legal restrictions on a person following a criminal conviction. These restrictions can prohibit someone from accessing the internet or using a smart phone. In a digital world this can make it more difficult to address the support needs associated with reintegration and rehabilitation. For example, restrictions on accessing the internet can make it difficult to negotiate Universal Credits, which is all online. The Digital Champions in Sacro can take on this role as part of their support offering to their service users.

There can also be restrictions on where a person is allowed to travel, and a requirement to attend regular appointments with Criminal Justice Social Work. For these individuals, if they are allowed to be online, the local bus app proved tobe an essential tool for navigating their way around Edinburgh, checking times and routes so as not to breach any of their restrictions. Mentors also highlighted how they put appointments in the calendar app for their service users and spoke of how one of the men she works with telling her “I’m going somewhere this afternoon, I don’t remember where it is but I’ll wait until my phone ‘bings’ and reminds me where I’m going.”

Housing is a common need for this service user group and as is common in many parts of the country, this is moving online too. In one of the areas these mentors work in the service user can lose their priority status for housing if they don’t bid on at least three properties each week – all online. Sacro is currently working with another charity to help deliver skills and training to their service users to help them do this independently without their mentor.

Mentors also spoke of the benefits of helping their service users download their banking apps so that they can access their statements a lot easier – essential for proof of address for accessing many services and benefits, as well as using price comparison websites and using budgeting apps to help control their finances.

One mentor talked about a service user who struggled with anxiety and could only do his food shopping in the middle of the night when the store was empty. She was able to show him how to do his shopping online for home delivery, which also meant he was able to have greater control over his spending and not making impulse purchases.

In the world of community justice there can be significant barriers to digital, but a world of opportunities to better meet the needs of people accessing services.