Roma Hooper is Director And Founder of Make Justice Work. Here she gives a personal perspective on the effectiveness of community sentences and how this is relevant to the role of Police and Crime Commissioners.
Prison has a poor record for reducing reoffending – 47% of adults are reconvicted within one year of being released. For those serving sentences of less than 12 months this increases to 57%. For those who have served 11 or more previous custodial sentences the rate of reoffending rises to 67%.
Locking up prisoners does not come cheaply. The average annual overall cost of a prison place in England and Wales for the financial year 2010-11 was £39,573. But it is not only the cost of prisoners serving their sentences which is so expensive there is also a price to be paid by society for a penal system which fails to rehabilitate offenders.
Without effective rehabilitation the revolving door of crime, courts and prison will continue to be a regular routine for many offenders. This is not only bad economics, it is also has a devastating impact on those communities which continue to face the daily impact of such criminality.
It is also important to focus on other ways to divert offenders from custody, with specific drug, alcohol and mental health courts well placed to ensure community orders address some of the underlying triggers of criminal behaviour.
PCCs will not exist in a vacuum and will have an important voice in the wider criminal justice system. In particular they will have a responsibility to work with a range of different partners such as local government, health services and housing to help reduce crime and tackle problems of anti-social behaviour.
Consistent with the Government’s wider agenda of localism PCCs will have a vested interest in wanting to reduce crime and reduce levels of re-offending. To achieve this there will need to be a greater emphasis on improving work with local partners. There are many examples of Probation Trusts working effectively with other agencies, such as in the field of employment support, with a clear focus on rehabilitation and reform.
Effective community sentences have a key role to play in reducing levels of reoffending, which is why they need to be robust, demanding and punitive. Court ordered community sentences are more effective by 8% at reducing one-year proven reoffending rates than custodial sentences of less than 12 months for similar offenders.
Make Justice Work campaigns for the more effective and wider use of community sentences as an alternative to short term prison sentences. Effective community sentences focus on the triggers of criminal behaviour, such as drug and alcohol abuse and mental issues and make offenders face up to the impact of their behaviour on victims of crime and the wider community.
Where there are good community sentences, PCCs can be champions of best practice which successfully reduces reoffending and work closely with Probation Services and others to ensure they receive the resources and investment they need to deliver excellence on the ground. Where there are shortfalls in the effectiveness of a community sentence, similarly PCCs will be in a position to ask some probing and difficult questions and hold those responsible to account.