Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Community Service and Sentencing

The teenagers sentenced in the Morgan Huelin case have been given community service orders. The sentences passed down by the Youth Court yesterday afternoon range from 140 hours of community service for the first defendant (also found guilty of possessing drugs and indecent images of children), to 100 hours of community service for one of the other teenagers, 50 hours for two defendants, and a 12-month binding over order for the final defendant.

Often when being handed down as a sentence this is perceived to be a ‘soft option’. It is clear that those who make those remarks do not even know what community service is, why it exists or why it is not the ‘soft option’ they consider it to be - in more ways than one.

So this blog posting explains what a Community Service Order involves, and I am grateful to my correspondent Adam Gardiner, who has given me details of what is involved, and why it is important.

A Community Service Order is a direct alternative to prison – in other words, an alternative to a custodial sentence. It carries with it an option, should the convicted person not complete that community service or in the meantime re-offends, for that Order can be cancelled and the person imprisoned.

Details can be found at:

A Community Service Order is generally only considered as an option when the person is not seen as being a threat to society nor likely to re-offend if released back into the community. It is very unlikely to be handed down as an option for either hardened criminals (extensive record of serious crime) or those most likely to re-offend (history of offending and behavioural issues) or for crimes that society and legislation have deemed to have no alternative that a custodial sentence, i.e. murder

When properly analysed, Community Service is not a soft option at all. It will require that person to undertake manual work that is of benefit to the community or to a community - unbudgeted but necessary environmental work for example.

That work is largely conducted over weekends which has considerable social implications. Community Service of 100 hours, for example, given that is most usually over a Saturday and Sunday and does not generally exceed 6 hours/day, means that a person so sentenced will ‘lose’ 17 weekends at least. Remember too, if they do not comply it is back to court and possible imprisonment. This is quite an incentive for most.

Community Service also relies on several external factors too. Should a custodial sentence impact on other members of a family and thereby cause hardship for them or other third parties, Community Service is seen as an equitable solution provided the court is satisfied that in handing down a Community Service Order there is strong probability that that person will not re-offend or constitute a risk to society. It’s a judgment call.

It is is also worth noting that Community Service costs the taxpayer nothing save the supervisory staff from the Probation Service who at other times undertake other work within the service. However, placing a person in prison has a cost to the taxpayer.

With an average daily population of circa 150 inmates at La Moye and a total cost of running the prison at around £10.65m (of which 82% is staff cost) that means each prisoner costs the taxpayer circa £65,000 per year.

While the prison has capacity for 255 prisoners, if that were also to be the daily average the staff cost would escalate considerably - and therefore the cost to the taxpayer.

Statistics show that those who are sentenced to Community Service respond positively and the vast majority never re-offend.

Those who shout about Community Service should consider the the bigger picture - if we were to imprison every wrong-doer. We should need a larger prison, more staff, and more tax revenue to pay for all of that. I am therefore sure the majority would agree that Community Service is also a good option for the taxpayer.

Disabled People and Community Service

Community Service Order generally results out of an SER (Social Evaluation Report) - conducted by the Probation Service who advise the court on ‘suitability’.

Probation delve into people’s backgrounds, their social problems, family circumstances, and indeed take account of any disability they may have.

However, that does not necessarily mean that a physical ‘disablement’ precludes anyone for Community Service as the options are quite wide. Equally manual work does not mean physical work - perhaps the term to use is mundane work - so long as it is of benefit to the community or a community (hence its title).

An example might be working at a grant assisted charity like Les Amis; working with other disabled people and reading to those who cannot. There is often an element of subtle catharsis in the type of work certain people are tasked to undertake by Probation.

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