'Jail for a day' sanction promoted
Britain should adopt a US-style "jail for a day" sanction for offenders who breach community sentence orders, a new report has recommended.
Putting offenders behind bars for very short terms if they fail to comply with the orders would restore credibility to a community sentence system which is regarded by many as a "laughing stock", the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) said.
The report found that around one-third of people given a sentence in the community were caught reoffending within a year and some 17,066 offenders had their sentence scrapped in 2012/13 because they did not comply.
Almost 28,000 offenders given community punishments have at least 15 previous convictions or cautions, the CSJ said.
New sanctions modelled on the Swift and Certain programmes operated in around 20 US states could "transform" the justice system in England and Wales, the report stated.
The programmes, which deliver immediate and predictable sanctions for failure to comply with court orders, have been credited with reducing reoffending by up to 50%, the CSJ said.
An offender who fails to turn up for work in the community can be seen by a judge the same day and sent to the cells for short spells of one to three days.
The report's editor Edward Boyd said that the Swift and Certain programmes were dramatically reducing breach rates and reoffending by forcing repeat offenders to take community sentences seriously.
"Many prolific offenders are refusing to take their punishment and rehabilitation seriously and are getting away with it," Mr Boyd said.
"What we have found in the United States is that the consequence of a day or two in prison shows offenders that they have to comply and means they take more responsibility.
"This approach is slashing reoffending rates as offenders realise they can't get away with breaking the rules.
"This new idea offers the Government an opportunity to restore faith in community punishments."
The CSJ said that sentences in the community had been undermined because authorities had a "lackadaisical approach" towards punishing breaches, with the average breach hearing usually not heard for several weeks.
The report also recommended that new probation providers should inform magistrates of the outcomes of sentences in the community so that they could develop a greater awareness of which interventions were effective at rehabilitating offenders.
It also said courts should do more to include families in rehabilitation efforts.
Justice Minister Jeremy Wright said: "We are determined to tackle the stubbornly high reoffending rates and we recognise the effect that drug addiction plays in leading people into a life of crime. We are changing the law so that the most chaotic offenders will receive extra help to tackle the underlying causes of their offending.
"This report raises some important issues and highlights the very clear fact that offending rates are unacceptably high. That is something we are acutely aware of and is the driving force behind our transforming rehabilitation programme, which will bring together the best of the public, private and voluntary sectors, and only reward them when they do reduce re-offending.
"Tough conditions are available to the judiciary when they impose community sentences. To further toughen community sentences, we are making changes that will mean they will have to contain an element of punishment, such as a curfew or community service, when imposed on adult offenders.
"Anyone who refuses to complete their community sentence can expect to be hauled back in front of a judge and face further punishment."