Greater say on community service
Communities and victims across Scotland are to be given a say on the type of work they want to see low-level offenders carrying out in their area under plans coming into force from today, Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill has announced.
Whether it is cleaning up graffiti, clearing litter, renovating elderly care homes, or restoring fallen gravestones, communities will be able to nominate what the local priorities are - and then ask for offenders to start work on them as part of their community sentence.
The proposals are part of a move by Ministers to improve public say on the type of tough manual labour they want to see low level offenders doing, and come as the new Community Payback Order comes into force. Mr MacAskill said that the idea was that low-level offenders should be working for the benefit of the community and that work squads should be made to help those local organisations and projects that are a priority for the community.
The announcement is backed by an additional £4 million funding to be allocated to Community Justice Authorities across Scotland to help deliver community payback and to improve its speed and effectiveness on the ground.
The majority of the funding will be used for specific projects to enhance facilities which communities suggest they would like to see improved, but which might otherwise have not been able to go ahead. This could include for instance play-parks or sports pitch renovation.
The rest of the funding is to be allocated to the purchase of specialist equipment such as graffiti removal tools or larger capital equipment to be used in more innovative work activities such as the equipment used in the gravestones project in Edinburgh.
Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said:
"We want to see low-level offenders out paying back communities by doing some tough manual labour.
"Punishment should be tough and we should be using these offenders as a resource to make improvements to local communities as pay back for the damage they have done.
"It is only right that those communities and their victims should be given a greater say on the type of manual labour they want to see low-level offenders carrying out in their local areas. This initiative will mean that communities across the country can identify the local priorities which need work doing and get offenders out doing them for the benefit of the community.
"It may be that streets scrawled in graffiti, or pavements covered in chewing gum, are targeted by local residents for action and community service work squads sent in to clean them up. Or, as we've seen in Edinburgh, it may be that the public want offenders sent out to restore fallen gravestones at the local church.
"Now, Scotland's communities will be given that chance to choose and there will be a statutory obligation for local authorities to consult the community on the type of work that low-level offenders should be carrying out in the area as part of their community service.
"This will be backed by an additional £4 million to be allocated to specific projects, as well as specialist equipment to carry out the work, such as graffiti removal tools or larger capital equipment. This will free up resources for authorities to invest the record levels of funding they are receiving into improving the effectiveness of community service on the ground.
"We want justice to be both immediate and tough.
"That is why the new community payback order will also contain provisions which will force low-level offenders given unpaid work to complete their sentenced hours much faster than they have had to previously, meaning they have to work much harder as a result.
"Prison is and always will be the right place for serious and dangerous offenders and recent statistics show we are beginning to get that balance right. Crime is down, serious crime is down, fear of crime is down, the number of people carrying out crime is down, and those that do break the law are being punished swiftly by Scotland's justice system with criminals now being punished with the longest prison sentences in a decade.
"But at the other end of the scale, we need to address Scotland's appalling reoffending rate for low-level offenders. These offenders are going in and out of prison, time and time again and committing more crime in communities upon release.
"It has gone on too long, has been ignored for years by successive Governments and it is time to stop. That is why we are doing something about it - and the UK and Irish Governments are now looking to follow our lead.
"All the evidence shows that getting offenders out doing some manual labour in the community works far better than short-term prison sentences and actually stops them committing further crimes.
"The facts speak for themselves with three quarters of those sentenced to a short prison sentence of three months or less going on to reoffend within two years of getting out, but in direct comparison, three out of five given a tough community sentence do not."
Victim Support Scotland Chief Executive David McKenna welcomed this new sentencing choice which will be open to Scottish Sheriffs.
He said: "The opportunity now exists for offenders to visibly make a positive difference to communities throughout Scotland through Payback.
"It is really important that the views of victims of crime and communities are taken account of in the use of Payback, and that this should include the nature of work to be undertaken and the demonstrable difference it makes to the relevant community. For many offenders short-term jail sentences simply do not work and are costly. Payback can make a real difference to the quality of life in a community and reduce the potential for reoffending".
From today, a 'presumption against' ineffective short prison sentences of three months or less in favour of a new Community Payback Order come into effect in Scotland as part of the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010.
Judges will still be able to sentence someone to three months in jail if they wish, but there will be a general presumption that low level offenders will instead be sent out to do some tough manual labour to pay their dues to the communities they have harmed, backed by action to address any underlying problems that may be fuelling the crime - whether that be alcohol, drug or mental health problems.
Latest figures show that 33,707 hours of snow clearing were undertaken by low level offenders during the recent adverse weather. On average there were 1314 offenders on community service out every single week across Scotland helping payback to their communities by clearing snow.