Community sentencing can help to reduce reoffending
Rehabilitation for those who commit crime is key in preventing reoffending, reducing the number of victims, and ultimately making Wiltshire safer.
Over the past month, we’ve seen some great work which has been done by offenders participating in the Community Payback scheme in Swindon, Warminster and Lacock as part of Keep Britain Tidy’s “Spring Clean” campaign.
Eighteen people worked a total of sixty-one hours over two weekends in relation to this particular campaign but this is only a small part of what’s actually going on. Since the start of the year, over seventeen thousand hours have been worked under the Community Payback scheme across the whole of Wiltshire.
I think it’s important that we use methods such as the Community Payback scheme, which are set by the courts, and out of court disposals, where fines are issued for crimes such as graffiti and low-level criminal damage by police officers, as an alternative to prison sentences where it’s appropriate.
Ministry of Justice research, comparing similar offenders and similar offences, shows that community sentences are now outperforming short prison sentences and are 8.3 % more effective in reducing reoffending rates.
I want to break the cycle that we see too often where offenders commit crime, go to prison then come back out and commit crime again.
With the Community Payback scheme here in Wiltshire, we’re not only seeing offenders do work which benefits local communities, they are also learning skills which will help them to find work and take them away from the path which leads to further criminality.
Many people will look at community sentencing and rightly ask where the victim sits in all of this. I think it’s important for the victim to be heard in these cases, which is why the victim has a say in what happens to the offender when it comes to out of court disposals.
Earlier this year, a report by Danny Shaw, the former BBC Home Affairs correspondent and now head of strategy for the Crest Advisory group, said “Out-of-court disposals are a valuable component of the criminal justice system. Without them, there would be no way for low-level and first-time offending to be dealt with swiftly and the courts would be even more clogged with cases than they are at the moment”.
Whilst this is important, it is absolutely essential that we continue to monitor and analyse the use of community sentencing to make sure that it’s working. In the same way that some criminals see prison as an occupational hazard, I don’t want to create a situation where habitual criminals see these sentences as “prison-lite”. These sentences must be designed to steer people away from crime and if offenders don’t understand that, then custodial sentences are the correct route to take.
Over the course of my term in office, I’ll be visiting some of the Community Payback schemes to see the work they’re doing. I’m already pleased with what I’m hearing about the positive impact they’re having across Wiltshire and long may this continue.