Community sentences ‘cut reoffending’

Community sentencing causes a “statistically significant” drop in reoffending rates, according to MPs.

In a report issued today, the public accounts committee found many problems with the way the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) runs the programme and collects information about it.

It retains a cautious optimism about the effects of increased community punishment, however.

“Community orders, which are intended to deliver both punishment and rehabilitation, can be a tough option and, in the right circumstances, a real alternative to locking offenders up,” said Edward Leigh, committee chairman.

“But there is a long way to making them as effective as they could be everywhere in the country.”

MPs on the committee complained about the lack of national information available to ascertain the effectiveness of the community orders, but reconviction rates for similar offences are 3.6 per cent below predicted rates in the case of community orders. For custodial sentences, reconviction rates are 3.1 per cent below predicted rates.

There is a scarcity of “basic information” on whether offenders complete their community orders and why they fail to do so. Different areas have different systems of acceptable and unacceptable reasons for offender absence.

“There is a chronic lack of information about community sentences,” Mr Leigh said.

“It does nothing for confidence in community orders, among both sentencers and the public, if no one knows how many have been completed by offenders.”

The Criminal Justice Act 2003 allowed the courts to attach a variety of requirements to community orders, such as anger management courses of alcohol rehabilitation, or to impose the courses as a punishment by themselves.

MPs complained about the shortage of facilities in some local communities, and said it was limiting the range of options available to the courts.

Despite alcohol being involved in nearly a quarter of offences, for instance, only two per cent of offenders were given an alcohol treatment requirement.

The Liberal democrats broadly welcomed the report.

“Demanding and properly enforced community sentences have a far greater impact on re-offending than revolving door short-term prison sentences,” said Lib Dem justice spokesman David Howarth.

Thge Howard League for Penal Reform said the report went to show the benefits of community sentencing.

“There is a wealth of good practice out there,” director Frances Crook told politics.co.uk.

“It’s about time we paid some attention to the success stories in criminal justice instead of constantly running down the good work that is done in our communities.”