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New guide for community sentences

Community sentences will now have to contain a specific element of punishment, such as a fine or unpaid work, the Government has announced.

Around 40,000 offenders each year will be hit by the changes unveiled by the Ministry of Justice.

Campaigners for penal reform have warned ministers they are wrong to force magistrates and judges to impose a punitive element on offenders even in cases where other measures are more appropriate.

But the Government said "hard-working taxpayers expect those convicted of committing crime to be punished accordingly" as a number of measures introduced in the Crime and Courts Act were brought into force.

Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: "It's crucial that someone who commits crime makes amends for what they have done and is seen to be doing so. But it's also crucial that they shouldn't do it again.

"The reason community sentences work so much better than short-term prison sentences is that they can be tailored to the reasons why someone is committing crime.

"Ministers are wrong to force magistrates and judges to impose something punitive even in cases where measures such as drug treatment is more appropriate."

"The Government should be taking steps to encourage sentencing choices, rather than restricting them in an attempt to look tough."

Last year, more than 130,000 community sentences were given, the Ministry of Justice said - with only around two-thirds containing punishment such as a curfew or unpaid work.

Another measure also coming into force will give the courts the power for the first time to defer the passing of a sentence so that a Restorative Justice activity - such as an offender and victim face-to-face meeting - can take place.

The legislation also removes the £5,000 limit on compensation orders that magistrates can make against adult offenders - allowing magistrates the freedom to set levels of compensation above that figure.

Justice minister Jeremy Wright said: "Hard-working taxpayers expect those convicted of committing crime to be punished accordingly.

"Victims must be confident that offenders will pay a price for their crimes, which is why we are toughening up community sentences.

"Offenders should not leave court feeling like they have got off the hook after receiving a community sentence."

Last year more than 130,000 community sentences were given. These changes are likely to affect around 40,000 offenders per year.

Ministry of Justice research of a number of Restorative Justice pilots found 85% of victims who participated in the conferencing method of Restorative Justice were satisfied with the experience. It also found the process was associated with an estimated 14% reduction in the frequency of re-offending.

Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said: " The Government has recognised that restorative justice is both demanding and effective. Polling reveals that the overwhelming majority of the public want a justice system where offenders are required to make amends for the harm they have done.

"Community sentences are now outperforming short prison sentences and are almost 7% more effective in reducing re-offending rates.

"Their hallmarks are intensive offender management and supervision, community payback, developing personal responsibility, and responding to needs such as housing, employment, addictions, mental health and learning disabilities and difficulties.

"It would be a great shame if, rather than building on this success, in a misplaced drive to win public confidence, the Government moves to make community sentences more punitive."


From Belfast Telegraph