Thursday, November 29, 2007

Justice Secretary MacAskill reveals community sentencing plans

The Justice Secretary, Kenny MacAskill, has revealed a plan to ensure that more community sentences are handed out to offenders ...

The Herald reports :

CRIME: MacAskill unveils community sentences shake-up

Kenny MacAskill today said he hoped a shake-up of community sentences would see more of such punishments handed out to offenders.

The Justice secretary announced the outcome of the Scottish Government's review of community penalties.

He also unveiled the government's action plan, which aims to ensure that such punishments are used to their full potential.

And he said: "My hope is that the proposals outlined in this report will send out a strong signal that community penalties can and should be used in a greater proportion of cases in future."

The changes proposed will see local communities given a say on the type of reparative work done by offenders in their area.

They will also require the work to be done within six months of the sentence being imposed, instead of the present 12 months Ministers also propose that community service orders, supervised attendance orders and community reparation orders will be replaced with a new single community service order, ranging from 20 hours to 300 hours.

And for the first time community service could include an activity other than unpaid work, such as debt awareness training or support to help offenders into employment.

The new community service orders will also be available in all courts - they have not previously been an option in district courts - ensuring they can be used in every case that is appropriate.

The government also proposes to extend Drug Treatment and Testing Orders to a wider ranger of offenders.

In 2005-06 community penalties were the main punishment imposed in 16,500 cases, while prison was the main punishment in 16,000 cases.

But while the level of recorded crime has been largely static over the last ten years, the prison population has risen by 18% over the decade.

Mr MacAskill said: "I am convinced that greater use should be made of community penalties."

He said the review provided "strong evidence" that community sentences could be more effective than short prison sentences.

Currently about three quarters of the community penalties handed out by courts are community service orders, and the justice secretary explained ministers wanted to focus on making these more effective.

Mr MacAskill said: "The recommendations in this report will ensure that our courts have a range of appropriate penalties to deal effectively with all offenders.

"Penalties that punish but offer the chance for offenders to turn their lives around. Penalties which are high quality, effective, immediate, visible, flexible and relevant."

He said the government was proposing a "radical restructuring of reparative sentences with community service at its heart".

He added: "A crucial aspect of changing criminal behaviour is demonstrating that there is a more rewarding alternative to a life of crime. Short prison sentences often fail to deliver on that goal.

"As well as benefiting the local community, effective community penalties can help an offender address underlying problems, improve employment prospects and build a sense of routine and self-esteem.

"This can lead to a future which is free from offending - and that is what we all want.

"A coherent penal policy must encompass a range of appropriate punishments, including prison for serious and dangerous criminals as well as tough community penalties for less serious offenders.

"It's therefore vital that we make the range of community penalties available to the courts as robust as possible to ensure they can be used with confidence in all appropriate cases."

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