The Community Service Order (CSO) is classed as a direct alternative to custody and requires an offender to carry out unpaid work which will be of benefit to the community as a whole. A new court disposal, the Community Payback Order, came into force on 1 February 2011 and replaces CSO for offences committed on or after that date. Community sentences can vary from individual placements to squads of 4-6 offenders working either during the day, evenings or weekends. The offenders are managed by a supervisor and the types of local community projects can range from:
- Litter / graffiti cleaning
- Creating a market garden where vegetables are given to those in deprived areas
- Repairing / repainting a village / church hall / day care centre
- Creating play areas in primary schools
- Clearing overgrown coastal paths, walkways
- Individual projects might include clearing the garden of an elderly person unable to maintain their garden or working in a charity shop or as we saw in the recent extreme weather, clearing footpaths of snow and ice.
An underpinning principle within the National Outcomes and Standards for social work services that govern Community Service is that the work done should not deprive others of paid employment.
If an offender fails to comply with the terms and conditions of a CSO this can result in a "breach" of the order and the offender being returned to court. If the breach is proved the court can impose a range of penalties including revoking the order and imposing a custodial sentence.
An audit of speed and immediacy of CSO, measuring performance against the standards set-out in the National Outcomes and Standards for social work services, was first commissioned in 2008 and looked at data relating to November 2008. To allow progress to be measured further audits were carried out in both 2009 and 2010 .