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Warning on community sentences

One in four offenders given community sentences or released from prison early on licence fails to comply with the terms set down by the authorities, figures have shown.

A total of 198,725 orders and licences came to an end in 2010/11, but only 150,632 were completed successfully, said the National Offender Management Service (Noms).

Officials, who described the reoffending rate as "unacceptably high", said the Government was reviewing the probation service and aiming to toughen up community sentences, a key element in Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke's "rehabilitation revolution".

It comes as one probation chief warned that people could "fall through the system" and the role of the probation service could disappear if more and more of its work was transferred to the private sector.

Heather Munro, vice-chairwoman of the Probation Chiefs' Association, said: "If you've got one set of people delivering people on community payback, somebody else delivering tagging services, somebody else delivering programmes that offenders go on, and you've got somebody else trying to hold the whole thing together - there is a real worry about fragmentation and that's when people fall through the system."

The figures, published in the addendum to the Noms annual report, also showed that more than 22,000 criminals failed to complete their unpaid work successfully after being given a community order or suspended sentence.

Only 67,611 of the 89,875 community payback orders which ended last year were completed successfully. Some 18,330 days of unpaid work by offenders - the equivalent of more than 50 years - were also lost because of operational difficulties, such as a lack of supervisors, transport or work, despite the offender being ready and willing, the report said.

But this was less than 1% of all the community payback days planned and continued a downward trend.

A Ministry of Justice spokeswoman said: "We are currently reviewing the future shape of probation services and reviewing community sentences to make them tougher and will set out our approach in due course. Where an offender breaches the conditions of their licence they face the prospect of being returned to prison."

Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust campaign group, said: "As things stand, almost half of all those released from prison, rising to three quarters of young offenders, are re-convicted within a year. For crime to fall in 2012 Government must cut re-offending rates following a custodial or a community sentence and use public health measures to break addictions to drugs and drink."

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