A £2.2 million organisation to spearhead work with offenders in the community is to be set up under radical plans by ministers to shake up justice services.

Ministers want the body to be established in April 2017 and to improve the management of men and women convicted of crimes who are not sent to prison, as well as those who have just been released from custody.

It would also be expected to liaise with experts in a wide range of areas, such as social work, drug abuse, mental health and homelessness in order to reduce high rates of re-offending.

Community Justice Scotland, the body to be set up under the reforms that were launched in Holyrood on polling day, would have a role in winning around hostile public opinion towards community justice often seen as a “soft touch” response to law breaking.

The changes follow a number of significant moves by Justice Secretary Michael Matheson, who soon after taking up his post cancelled the building of a new £75m high-security women’s prison, HMP Inverclyde, then underlined the need for more frontline services to divert people away from crime.

The plans are contained in the Community Justice (Scotland) Bill and are to be examined by Holyrood’s justice committee which will tomorrow begin seeking views about them.

Currently, community justice services are delivered through eight regional Community Justice Authorities (CJAs) whose members are restricted to councillors from each local authority involved in the body.

But the reforms seek to widen out the type of experts involved in their management, and seek to give a role to organisations involved in tackling drug and alcohol abuse, homelessness, poverty and mental illness.

They follow reports from former Lord Advocate Dame Eilish Angiolini’s Commission on Women Offenders and from Audit Scotland about shortcomings in the current system.

Angiolini was particularly critical of the number of women in prison who were struggling with a wide range of social problems and presented no risk to others.

The bill’s policy memorandum said: “Offending is a complex problem and there are well established links between persistent offending and poverty, homelessness, addiction and mental illness.

“The purpose of the bill is to replace the existing model for community justice services which is based on eight regional community justice authorities (CJAs), with a new model. The new model delivers a community solution to the achievement of improved outcomes for community justice, to the problem of re-offending, and to the task of offender management.”

It added: “The functions [of Community Justice Scotland] include promoting the national strategy, overseeing and keeping the Scottish Ministers informed of performance in relation to the provision of community justice (and in particular, performance in relation to the achievement of the nationally determined outcomes), promoting and supporting the improvement of community justice and the effective use of the resources available for community justice, and promoting public awareness of the benefits of sentencing offenders to community disposals and supporting offenders in the community in order to reduce re-offending.”

Paul Wheelhouse, community safety and legal affairs minister, introduced the proposals into Holyrood on May 7.

The following day, he said: “Offending is a complex problem and there are well established links between persistent offending and poverty, homelessness, addiction and mental illness. Re-offending creates victims, damages communities and wastes potential.

“We want to work in partnership with organisations and communities to reduce re-offending and to deliver better outcomes for offenders and communities.”

Tom Halpin, chief executive of the offender rehabilitation organisation SACRO welcomed the proposals saying they provided a strong opportunity for Scotland’s community justice services to work more collaboratively.

He added: “The lived experience of people using SACRO’s services to successfully change their life tells us this bill is critical in building a socially just and inclusive society for all of Scotland’s communities.”