The woman is gasping for breath as she tries to stifle sobs while her solicitor tells the sheriff she wants to be sent to prison.

In Glasgow Sheriff Court, three Mondays out of four, Court 10 becomes what is known as a "problem solving court" - in this case, the Alcohol Court.

Only a small group of specialised sheriffs sit in this court, making sentencing decisions that aim to help an accused address the underlying cause of their offence.

From a pilot project Drugs Court in Glasgow the problem solving system has expanded across areas of Scotland to include alcohol, youth offending and a female-specific court.

Today Sheriff Mark McGuire is on the bench and some 22 people appear before him over the two-and-a-half hours the court sits.

Of those, several are not suitable for the Alcohol Court because they live outwith the border of Glasgow City Council - the geographical restriction is strict and even someone a street or so over the border in a different local authority area is not entitled to access.

Sheriff McGuire addresses a man who has failed to stick to his order.

"You gave your word and broke your word," he says.

The Herald: Sheriff Bonnar

The court hears the man has 25 separate offences and 24 breaches of court orders, has breached his supervision order and has not turned up for his unpaid work.

Sheriff McGuire had previously deferred sentence on the man to be of good behaviour but his offending has instead escalated.

The sheriff says: "Your actions have consequences and you are about to find out what those are."

He refers to the man's "failure to stop his chaotic and transient lifestyle" before adding: "Unlike you, I am a man of my word," and hands down a prison sentence of 100 days.

Others have progressed well on their orders and receive the sheriff's praise.

For those Sheriff McGuire is still getting to know, he repeats the same advice - "Don't worry if you fall off the wagon, but be honest about it."

That honestly will be presented to Justice Social Workers who are responsible for overseeing a person's supervision order which, as well as any punishment element such as unpaid work or restriction of liberty, will include access to addiction and counselling services.

Sheriff McGuire tells the distressed woman, whose solicitor says has been drinking before the hearing, that he has "six and a half years to play with" in regards to a prison sentence.

She has, the court hears, struggled with sobriety and wants a custodial sentence.

The sheriff defers the case for a slew of reports first and the woman says: "I want remand".

As he denies bail, she says "thank you" to the court officer who places her in handcuffs.

The scene is difficult to watch but not uncommon - and problem-solving sheriffs take part additional training to assist them in understanding the complex needs of people with addictions.

There are three alcohol courts – Glasgow, Edinburgh and Hamilton - with further problem solving courts in Aberdeen and Forfar.

Sheriffs Iain Fleming and Gerard Bonnar both sit in the Alcohol Court in Glasgow and are passionate about the work they do there.

"It's a chance to make a difference," Sheriff Bonnar says, "to do something different where there are people with these particular issues.

"To take a slightly different approach from the traditional approach also. There's certainly a degree of job satisfaction that comes with it."

Sheriff Fleming said he watched the Drug Court when he worked as a solicitor advocate and expressed an interest in the newly formed Alcohol Court when it launched in February 2018.

"We're interested in something a bit broader," Sheriff Fleming says. "We're interested in the fact that alcohol is the source of the problem.

"And actually, the criminality is only a manifestation of that. There are other manifestations, such as poverty, homelessness, trauma.

"It may well be that actually someone is drinking in order to mask trauma.

"What we are interested in doing is identifying the problem, which is the alcohol, and addressing that at source.

"The hope, indeed the expectation, is that if we can address the alcohol problem the criminality will stop and lifestyle will improve."

The Herald: Sheriff Fleming

An accused person will see the same sheriff throughout their time in the Alcohol Court and a familiarity will build during regular reviews of the case.

Problem solving courts first began in Florida in 1998 where the criminal justice system tried to take a different view of the chronic, widespread drugs issue impacting life in the Miami Dade area.

Research from the US shows that, as Sheriff Bonnar phrases it, "repeated and sustained appearance by an offender in front of one judge has been shown to be instrumental in progress."

He adds: "But when you talk about a relationship, it's not necessarily a friendly relationship, because at the end of the day, we may need to send these particular people to prison.

"So we're not friends. But what we are doing is hopefully creating an atmosphere which will allow them to succeed in overcoming the problems and that is the aim in the court.

"But that might be a robust rather than a sensitive approach on certain occasions, it just depends on what works."

Not everyone is ready for the Alcohol Court system - some fail to engage with their orders, some are simply not prepared to take part in the counselling on offer.

It can be that, while the system doesn't help the first time, it may open the person up to be ready to accept help further down the line.

Both sheriffs praise the social workers and addiction workers in the courts as "motivated, tremendously enthusiastic and committed" - without them, the system would fail.

Asked if they would like to see the problem solving courts rolled out more widely, they won't be drawn, however Sheriff Bonnar says: "We're just happy to do the cases that we that we can, where that support is available.

"And if other support becomes available then we're happy to get involved in those."

"I mean, we're not short of offenders," Sheriff Fleming adds, wryly.

Scotland's problem solving courts receive visitors from other parts of the UK and overseas - including America - to see what works, and the sheriffs have been in Belfast to view the substance abuse court there.

The court, which is for lower tariff offending, is not a soft touch option. The supervision orders imposed require physical and mental effort.

Sheriff Fleming added: "For many people, prison is easier because they've got a roof over their head, they've got a bed, they've got three square meals, they don't need to make any decisions.

"There is no incentive to take drink.

"It's only once they get out the drink is freely available that they maybe need to distance themselves from their own social group.

"Very occasionally people do ask for a custodial sentence, but what you find is if you give a short prison sentence and they maybe get sobered up, get an equilibrium recovered and perhaps find that they've then got the energy and the motivation to re-engage."

The court has a ripple effect too. Sheriff Fleming says family members will get in touch to say thank you - family can benefit from recovery as much as the accused.

Sheriff Bonnar added: "The thing we both feel is very rewarding is when somebody comes to the court, and then you see them maybe six months or a year down the line, helping others.

"When somebody comes along and they've gone from, say, attending recovery cafes to volunteering to helping others, I think we both make a big deal about that and praise that particular person.

"You physically see massive changes as well and when you say you say to them, 'Look, you're looking a lot better', that gives them a lift, too."

Gibby believes his life would be radically different without the Alcohol Court and Sheriff Fleming.

He would have gone to prison, sunk into a downward spiral and have no hope for the future, he tells me.

Sheriff Fleming was his dedicated sheriff and the 57-year-old praises his experience of the system - although he found the counselling element tougher than the punitive element.

Gibby, from Glasgow's Easterhouse, has completed his sentence and is now living in the Managed Alcohol Programme (MAP) run by Simon Community Scotland where chronic alcoholics are given small pours of alcohol each day.

The father-of-seven has been there for three months and is finally adjusting, having initially found it tough.

"It was a bit overwhelming at first because I was too busy doing a lot of drinking. Coming in here and then meeting new people and getting to know all the staff and then having to reduce my alcohol, I found that really difficult.

"So the first couple of weeks, I struggled and I did go outside and I did drink when I was outside.

"I was in some state some of the times I came back, but I'm starting to get used to get."

He has reduced his pours of alcohol from seven a day to four a day and reduced the volume too. Eventually he would like to move to abstention.

Gibby was arrested after becoming violent at his wife's home after a day of binge drinking, kicking doors and smashing windows. The binge was prompted by learning of the death of a close friend, a woman he said was like a sister to him, and the arrest led to a downward spiral.

But binge drinking was nothing new. He started at 14 thanks to, he says, "peer pressure". He became addicted, lost his job driving taxis and an ice cream van.

Now his children, aged 15 to 33, and his wife of more than 40 years - they met at school - no longer speak to him.

The counselling has dredged up difficult childhood memories he is trying to process in the hope he can repair his fractured relationships.

He rubs his wedding ring as he says: "My dad used to keep going at me constantly because I was different from everybody else.

"I was a punk when I was growing up, so you can imagine the kind of clothes that I was wearing, the spiky hair and all that.

"And my dad hated me for that." Gibby details how his father would beat him, hit his fingers with hammers.

"All sorts," he adds, "just because I was different and see because of that, my attitude towards him changed and my attitude towards the whole of society changed."

He went off the rails, he says.

Initially, he would come home from court and drink a bottle of vodka but he eventually engaged with the system.

Now he has a six month plan - stop drinking altogether, be ready for work and repair the damage with his loved ones.

"It was a good system," Gibby adds. "If they hadn't put me through the alcohol court I would have been in jail so Sheriff Fleming really done me a good turn."

In the six years since its launch, the Alcohol Court has managed 808 accused persons. The Scottish Courts and Tribunal Service provides the most recent data, from April 1, 2021 to March 30, 2023.

In that time, in Glasgow, 75 Alcohol Courts were scheduled, dealing with 1851 hearings and 402 people were referred.

The Herald: Sheriff Principal Anwar

Of the 645 complaints - the list of offences - dealt with in these courts for those 402 people, 138 were in relation to domestic abuse matters.

The most common disposal for the accused involved was Structured Deferred Sentences - 256 of these - while 44 new Community Payback Orders (CPO) were imposed and 247 CPO review hearings were assigned.

Sheriff Principal Aisha Anwar said: “Glasgow Sheriff Court has a long history of establishing problem solving courts with the objective of tackling the cause of offending. "The aim of these courts is to deliver sentences which are tailored to influence an offender’s behaviour and to hold them accountable for their crimes while also addressing the underlying cause of their behaviour."

The Alcohol Court was launched in Glasgow Sheriff Court in February 2018 following on from the success of the Drugs Court. Other problem solving courts include the Young Persons Courts and Female Offenders Courts. The Sheriff Principal added: "Its success is attributable to the collaborative approach of the designated sheriffs, the commitment of the criminal justice social work teams and the active engagement of the defence solicitors who discuss the advantages of referrals to the Alcohol Court with their clients. "Successful outcomes are however only possible where the accused person meaningfully engages in the process; that engagement is what these courts seek to achieve."