Unemployed offenders face tougher work in the community
Unemployed offenders face a full week of unpaid work, including the possibility hard manual labour, under plans to toughen community penalties as an alternative to prison.
Instructions will be issued to courts by the Ministry of Justice, urging them to make sure unemployed offenders sentenced to the “community payback” programme work a minimum of 28 hours over a four-day week. They will spend the fifth day looking for work or face losing their jobseekers’ allowance.
The department had previously said that community payback schemes, previously known as community service, could be spread over 12 months, with some offenders doing as little as six hours a week unpaid work.
The more intensive scheme will also require offenders to start work within seven days of sentencing instead of the two weeks it currently takes following a court appearance. More than 100,000 offenders are given community sentences across England and Wales each year, with more than 8.8m hours of unpaid work completed annually. The scheme is run by the probation service and the public can nominate jobs to be undertaken by offenders.
A ministry spokesman said the work usually included improving public areas by picking up litter, cleaning graffiti, and maintaining parks and green spaces. But offenders can also be required to undertake hard labour such as working on a community farm.
Under the 2003 Criminal Justice Act, those who have responsibility for children or other dependents are exempt from the 28 hours a week requirement.
The prisons and probation minister, Crispin Blunt, said the scheme would encourage unemployed offenders back into the routine of hard and meaningful work. It is being introduced alongside plans for a full working week for convicted prisoners in England and Wales.
“If you are unemployed and on community payback you shouldn’t be sitting idle at home watching daytime television or hanging about with your mates on a street corner. You should be out paying back to your community… through hard, honest work,” said Blunt.
“The public want to see offenders giving something back to their communities, but they are rightly not satisfied with seeing only a handful of hours a week dished out.” Decent, law-abiding people can work a full five-day week and so should offenders.”Blunt said regular, meaningful work was proven to help break the crime cycle. Ministers also announced plans to increase the maximum number of curfew hours from 12 to 16. Curfews are enforced by the electronic tagging of the offender.
Harry Fletcher of Napo, the probation union, said : “Previous attempts to have offenders doing payback all week have failed because they would have lost “This proposal gets round that problem, however, the scheme will only be viable if it is properly resourced, doesn’t put council workers out of work and if offenders are fit to carry out the tasks.”
Fletcher said community payback was a probation service success story that was unsuitable for privatisation.
Southwark council in south London has written to dozens of tenants charged over recent rioting to warn they could be evicted from their homes if convicted. Some 35 letters have been sent to those living in the borough who have either been brought before the courts themselves or whose family members are suspected of criminal conduct during the recent disorder. More than 120 businesses in Southwark fell victim to the destruction earlier this month.
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