Reoffending may rise under plans
Kenneth Clarke's plans to toughen up community orders by tracking offenders with high-tech ankle tags and ensuring every sentence is a punishment could increase reoffending, the Government's own impact assessment has shown.
The Ministry of Justice's initial assessment found the proposals for new intensive community punishments could increase reoffending if the essential new punitive element forces out rehabilitation requirements.
Campaigners also warned that while "tough-sounding policies and Big Brother electronics will grab headlines", there is also the "risk that politicians will confuse toughness with effectiveness".
The warnings came as the Justice Secretary outlined plans which could see every community sentence having a sanction aimed primarily at punishment, curfews backed by electronic monitoring, or a fine.
But the MoJ's impact assessment said: "Given a limit on the overall level of resources available for probation services, and the need for sentences to remain proportionate ... delivering top end community orders may cause a number of primarily rehabilitative requirements to be substituted for primarily punitive ones.
"Evidence is unclear on the effectiveness of individual community order requirements in reducing re-offending ... For offenders who receive intensive community punishment, there is a risk that re-offending rates may be higher than other community orders if some of the rehabilitative requirements are replaced."
But it added that the tough new sentences may also lead to "some intangible benefits arising from a greater level of public confidence in the criminal justice system, and from justice being seen to be done".
"When it comes to law and order, there is always a risk that politicians will confuse toughness with effectiveness," said Juliet Lyon of the Prison Reform Trust. "There's no substitute for intensive supervision of offenders by well-trained professionals, and restorative justice for victims."
Shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan added: "This Tory led-Government's whole criminal justice strategy is built on an overriding objective to reduce prison numbers in order to fill the black hole in the budget, and these proposals appear part of this obsession."
The probation union Napo also warned that tougher community sentences would only lead to a higher proportion of offenders failing to meet the requirements. Harry Fletcher, the union's assistant general secretary, added there was also "no evidence that GPS satellite tracking will reduce crime or save costs".