Government

Crime and community sentences

by Mark Rowe

Crime can be reduced through rigorous sentences served in the community. With the right investment, intensive community sentences (community orders, rather than custody) can succeed where short prison sentences fail. As well as reducing offending, they can ease pressure on prison places. Currently they fall way short of their potential. Despite all the advantages of community orders, the country has seen ‘considerable decline’ in their use in recent years. That’s according to a report by the House of Lords’ Justice and Home Affairs Committee.

The committee’s Liberal Democrat chair, Baroness Hamwee, said: “The dots must be joined up. Prisons are at crisis point. Places are simply not available. Yet it is well-known that a short time in custody too often schools someone in how to be a ‘better’ criminal. The Government acknowledges all this.

“If the crisis is regarded as an opportunity to focus on how to make the best use of community orders, their potential can be realised, to the benefit of individual offenders and of the community.” 

“The use of community sentences has dropped dramatically over the last ten years. Used well, and with the necessary investment in the intensive treatment that is often needed, they can turn people’s lives around.” 

“We acknowledge the challenges the Government faces in the prison service, and welcome the attention on community sentences. Our report shows the contribution that these sentences can make, and that they are valuable in themselves—and that they need commitment from Government for their full potential to be realised.” 

The peers found ‘untapped potential for keeping offenders out of prison and supporting them to avoid reoffending’ and suggested more state funding for ‘rehabilitative services’ such as treatment for drug addicts. Their report warned that the potential of community sentences will not be maximised until the Probation Service (a £1 billion a year part of HM Prisons and Probation Service) is ‘fully functional’, as its caseloads are unmanageable and job satisfaction is low.

The committee includes the former chair of the Security Industry Authority (SIA), the Labour working peer Baroness Ruth Henig.  

For the full, 94-page report, visit https://committees.parliament.uk/.

Photo by Mark Rowe; Inverness Prison wall.

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