Unpaid Work by offenders in the community, originally known as Community Service, was introduced in October 1972 as a new sentencing option. Since then it has changed and developed in both name and substance. The 1991 Criminal Justice Act dubbed it ‘Community Punishment’, to reflect the desire of a previous government to rebalance the punitive and rehabilitative elements of community sentences. Subsequently ‘Enhanced Community Punishment’ was introduced: enhanced in this case through the addition of elements designed to promote changed behaviour and to direct those undertaking the sentence towards formal qualifications and employment. The current branding reflects the value that is placed on the reparative aspects of Unpaid Work in the community.
Community Payback has survived and thrived through all these changes. It can deliver both punishment and rehabilitation. It is about community engagement and about reparation by those who have offended. As we move forward into the fifth decade Community Payback will continue to thrive as we meet the current government’s requirement to make the working day and the working week more demanding of offenders’ time and better able to equip individuals for a move back into full time employment.
If the Prime Minister, David Cameron, wants a ‘tough but intelligent’ approach, he needs to ensure that a strong Community Payback scheme is included in the Community Sentence ‘toolbox’. The recent competition for the London Community Payback scheme, won by a partnership of Serco and London Probation Trust has shown the potential for probation’s public sector expertise to join up with the private sector to enhance delivery and value for money. The Probation Chiefs Association is keen to further explore the options opened through competition whilst strongly advocating the advantages of local delivery to benefit communities and provide constructive work for offenders.
A quick and totally unsystematic survey of recent work across Probation Trusts provides the following snapshot:
- Surrey and Sussex Probation Trust have been working on an enormous range of projects among which is the long term project to improve the environment and reduce the fear of crime in the Bristol Estate area ofBrighton. Work on this project has included:
- Clearing large overgrown hedgerows to improve safety
- Refurbishing the basements of 11 tower blocks
- Removing litter and graffiti
- Painting railings and steps
- Clearing fly-tipped rubbish
- Clearing allotments
- The Staffordshire and West Midlands Probation Trust has developed an innovative recycling project, which helps to raise money for local charities. The Trust with a private sector and a voluntary sector partner provides an ‘opportunity for offenders to payback to the community by reducing landfill and recycling but it also has a positive an impact on the lives of the young people who will be helped by the donations.’
- Wiltshire Probation Trust is working with the ‘Friends of Pentylands Country Park’ to help maintain a valued local amenity at Highworth nearSwindon. ‘The Friends’ policy is to work alongside the team; we provide instruction, advice, explanations as to why we are carrying out the work, risk and health and safety advice and where necessary additional supervision.’
- Lancashire Probation trust has developed partnerships with many of the Local Authorities in its area. Offenders work to supplement and improve street cleaning and other environmental services. One example among many is work to paint benches throughoutBurnleytown centre, which was undertaken earlier in 2012.
This selection, and many more projects which are detailed in the Community Payback pages of Probation Trust web-sites give the sense of engagement with communities, urban and rural, small voluntary groups and large Local Authorities, which characterises Community Payback. The sense of hard often physically demanding work is there to.
If Community Payback did not exist, the person who thought it up right now, would surely become a advisor to the Justice Secretary with immediate effect!
Here’s to the next forty years.
Andrew Chandler (ACO W Yorkshire)