|Local reach||Plymouth and Cornwall|
The Community Advice and Support Service (CASS) operates at local Magistrates Courts in Devon and Cornwall. It was first introduced at Bodmin in October 2005, then at Plymouth in May 2006 and most recently at Truro in September 2011. From November 2008 it was run by the National Mental Health charity Rethink Mental Illness. On 1st April 2015 it launched as an Independent Charity under the name CASSPLUS. (Local services are commonly referred to as CASS.)
CASSPLUS aims to provide assistance primarily, though not exclusively, to low level/low risk offenders and their families by taking referrals from court teams, eg solicitors, probation, magistrates, legal advisors, etc. (and in some cases from external agencies).
The aim of CASSPLUS is to identify issues that are underlying the offender’s behaviour and therefore bringing them to Court. This may involve housing/homelessness, health/mental health, debt/benefits, drugs/alcohol and employment/education, to name a few. The advantage of CASSPLUS being based at the Courts is that it will provide early intervention to this low level/first time group of offenders. At this point of crisis they are most likely to engage with support services. CASSPLUS has developed strong links with agencies to enable more defined and strengthened referral systems, which would not always be easy to access by the clients independently.
CASSPLUS deals with and supports clients who are often socially excluded by external services, not least because they are seen to be “difficult”, eg mental health or substance mis-users. CASSPLUS is able to provide on-going advocacy to help clients to engage fully with appropriate support and is often used as the “middle ground” in the multi-agency approach that needs to be adopted for this particularly vulnerable group.
The ultimate aim of the service is to help reduce the risk of re-offending, though this data is difficult to measure with this very transient group of offenders. (Certainly it is easier to obtain statistics for offenders under probation supervision or in prisons!) In any case, there is strong anecdotal evidence, available through case studies, that reflect real improvement in peoples’ lives following contact with CASSPLUS.
CASSPLUS support is extended to other vulnerable groups in touch with the Justice System, including those attending Tribunal and Family cases.
CASSPLUS is the current Co-ordinator of Victims of Crime in Cornwall, working in direct partnership with SSC and its extended partners.