‘I’ve gone shopping with my mum’ - how criminals are avoiding unpaid work in Norfolk and Suffolk
Courts are avoiding punishing criminals with unpaid work because it is not being supervised properly, according to a senior Norwich judge. The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has now ordered the company running community punishment in Norfolk and Suffolk to improve after a review was carried out in July.
Unpaid work, which includes offenders guilty of crimes from drink driving to assault removing graffiti and tidying up wasteland, was contracted by the government last year to Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs). The CRC for Norfolk and Suffolk is run by a French company, called Sodexo, but Ministry of Justice figures show the system is performing worse here than anywhere else in the country.
Our investigation has found some criminals given CRCs may be avoiding punishment and other problems, including:
- One criminal managed to avoid doing unpaid work by saying he had gone shopping with his mum;
- Up to 120 criminals being assigned to one case officer;
- One offender not showing up on 41 occasions;
”We are having real problems with the supervision of unpaid work,” he said. He told the court judges were staying away from imposing unpaid work because they felt the criminals were not being supervised enough. A CRC worker in court told Judge Holt that they had to deal with up to 120 offenders per officer. Under the old system the figure was 40 to 50 per officer.
Judge Holt also said there were cases where criminals had not turned up to do their unpaid work but no breach proceedings had been triggered by the CRC. And this newspaper has learned that on one occasion an offender did not turn up for unpaid work because he said he was shopping with his mum. The CRC classed that excuse as “acceptable”.
The National Audit Office published a report in April into CRCs which found there was “an inherent risk that offender managers may avoid ‘breaching’ offenders” as this could affect targets. Government funding to CRCs is dependent on them hitting their targets. Their contract states they have to hit target by February 2017.
Another case was heard at Norwich Crown Court where the offender had not shown up to do unpaid work on 41 occasions. All of his absences were classified as “unacceptable” meaning he could give no reason for skipping his punishment. One judge at Norwich Crown Court has designed a form for Norfolk and Suffolk CRC to fill in to record how many hours of unpaid work the offender has actually done.
Norfolk and Suffolk was the worst performing CRC in the country in five out of 15 measures which the MoJ uses to monitor them, according to the latest available figures which cover January to March this year. It was the second worst in the country on two further measures.
The figures show:
- Norfolk and Suffolk CRC is referring just 11pc of cases on time where offenders breach the terms of their community punishment. The target is 95%.
- Nine per cent of offenders are starting unpaid work within a week of being allocated. The target is 75%.
- Only 37% of offenders are initially being contacted on time by the CRC after being sentenced. The target is 97%.
A Norfolk and Suffolk CRC spokesperson said: “Our performance has improved significantly in the last few months. “Since July, 94% of community service orders have started within seven days and our staff are delivering high-quality supervision for projects that benefit the community and offender rehabilitation. We continue to work closely with local judges to support greater confidence in community service as a sentencing option.”