Sunday 26 March 2023

A Great Idea Screwed Up - Again

Here we go again then with Rishi Sunak announcing more bloody orange - jumpsuits this time not just tabards - in the drive to create the UK version of the chain gang in order to win votes. The original concept of Community Service - a 'constructive penalty' - was thoughtful and intelligent, as we discussed in 2019, but has all but lost any serious and beneficial purpose thanks to politicians of the left and right:-   

Unfortunately politicians just can't stop themselves tinkering with criminal justice policy for political gain and John Harding wrote this for the Guardian in January 2013:-

Forty years of community service

How did a measure that required offenders to carry out socially beneficial work turn into a form of punishment?

The first community service order was made in Nottingham crown court 40 years ago this month for Peter, a cannabis supplier.

On 2 January 1973, Mr Justice James ordered Peter to undertake 120 hours of community service. As the senior probation officer responsible for initiating a Home Office community service order pilot scheme in Nottinghamshire, I was summoned to the judge's retiring room before the sentencing decision was announced. The judge wanted to know what the new measure involved, where the offender would be placed and how accountable the service would be if Peter failed to respond. I told him that Peter would be working for an old people's home run by Nottingham social services, assisting staff and residents. If he failed to turn up for community service, Peter would have been returned to court for being in breach of the order.

This revolution in community-based sanctions was the creation of a subcommittee of the Advisory Council on the Penal System (ACPS), set up in 1966 by the then Labour government to advise the home secretary on "matters relating to the prevention of crime and the treatment of offenders". The ACPS non-custodial and semi-custodial penalties subcommittee was chaired by social reformer Lady Barbara Wootton.

Probation pilots

Following its recommendation, community service was piloted in six probation areas: Nottinghamshire, inner London, Kent, Durham, south-west Lancashire and Shropshire. Six senior probation officers/community service organisers were appointed by the pilot areas to negotiate a range of tasks with local public services and non-governmental organisations, set out criteria for the assessment and matching of offenders to work assignments, and prepare magistrates and judges for the new powers that, from January 1973, would be available to crown and magistrates courts.

I asked the only surviving member of ACPS, Sir Louis Blom-Cooper, where the idea of community service came from. He said that, by chance, the committee's attention was drawn to a newspaper article about an experiment conducted by a criminal court judge in Darmstadt, Germany, in the 1950s. The judge exercised his discretion by ordering an offender, convicted of dangerous driving, to work for a certain period of time under nursing supervision in a local accident and emergency hospital. The knowledge that the judge, under German criminal law, could impose a legal requirement on a convicted offender to carry out such work provided the spur ACPS needed to develop their thinking of community service as a court sanction in its own right, Blom-Cooper explained. Yet, without Wootton's inspired chairmanship and forcefulness, community service would not have emerged as a distinct penal sanction, he added.

ACPS believed that community service should be a constructive penalty whereby the offender took on the burden of social responsibility towards others. They saw great merit in merging the majority of offenders with non-offender volunteers so that the offenders could be inspired by the volunteers.

When ACPS published its report on non-custodial penalties in 1970, it took the view that community service would appeal to the punitive-minded because it involved deprivation of leisure; to the retributive, because it would compel the offender to make some repayment to the community for the damage that he had done; and to others, mainly because it would be cheaper and probably a more hopeful alternative to a short period of imprisonment, or because it would make the punishment fit the crime.

The pilot areas were left with relative freedom to develop community service in appropriate ways. I was much influenced by the New Careers movement in the US, which was part of President Lyndon Johnson's anti-poverty programme. It used some offenders as a community resource in the belief that, instead of becoming recipients of help, they could become dispensers of service and, in doing so, gain status and approval. Within three months in Nottinghamshire, we had hundreds of potential tasks for offenders in the community, from helping at clubs for disabled people or young people and at old people's homes, to canal preservation and supporting A&E units of local hospitals.

When the two-year pilots ended in 1974, the Home Office research unit's final report was a superb illustration of official caution punctured by unfettered enthusiasm. The researchers said the scheme was viable and, despite their doubt about its overall impact on the size of the population, revealed that, at its best, community service was an exciting departure from traditional penal treatment.

By the end of 1977, community service was rolled out across England and Wales. And over the next 20 years, Europe, Australasia, parts of Asia and the US all adopted community service orders.

In the UK alone, millions of hours of community service have been carried out by thousands of offenders at a fraction of the cost of imprisonment. The latest figures from the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) show that community sentences outperform prison sentences for 18- to 24-year-olds by 13% in terms of reducing reoffending. Even when offenders of all ages are closely matched in terms of criminal history and offence type, the performance gap remains 8%.

Yet, in a retributive age, the image of community service has been ratcheted up by politicians to match penal populism. And a demand for tougher community penalties has been paralleled by the rebranding of community service to community punishment, then community payback, and now to unpaid work. Today's offenders wear fluorescent tabards over their clothes to indicate that they are offenders, easily recognisable by members of the public. In reality, I suspect, despite the hardening rhetoric, nothing much has changed in terms of nature of tasks undertaken, though the rigid enforcement of orders leaves little room for discretion.

Further, probation staff have handed over responsibility for unpaid work schemes to private companies such as Serco, which in October was awarded a four-year contract in London. The justification for this is to ensure a more efficient and cost-effective service. There are no evidential grounds for this degree of optimism. Serco promises to cut costs. The probation union, Napo, warns that this will be achieved by changing the employment conditions of existing supervisory staff and cutting salaries.

The MoJ intends to put out to tender £600m worth of probation services, about 60% of the entire budget. It is a far cry from the Wootton committee's founding principles that a private company should not make profits on the back of offenders while they are repaying their debt to society. Blom-Cooper, for one, is saddened that we have moved to an acceptance that profit, not a sense of public service, is the prime driver for certain parts of our criminal justice process. "Penal reform," he remarked drily, "is not necessarily penal progress."

In addition, the government proposes, in its crime and courts bill currently going through parliament, to introduce a mandatory punitive element to every community order. This could include a fine or a curfew, which penal campaigners are warning may undermine community sentences' success in reducing reoffending.

Whether the foundation stones of community service, laid down over the past 40 years, will survive under fragmentation and privatisation is open to question. Those of us fortunate enough to have been involved in its conception and present at its birth, believed that probation could make a difference in offenders' lives, provided that hard work, and clarity of purpose and vision underpinned all our efforts.

John Harding was pioneer senior probation officer/community service organiser for Nottinghamshire, 1972-74, and chief probation officer for inner London, 1993-2001


The dreadful Louise Casey had stuck her oar in of course. This from 2008:-

Revolt grows over 'community payback' jackets

Offenders facing abuse, say probation officers Minister insists garments show justice is being done

Evidence is emerging of a growing boycott of the government's compulsory scheme for offenders to wear high-visibility orange jackets when they are carrying out unpaid work in the community.

Napo, the probation officers' union, will claim today that one Midlands probation service has suspended implementation of the scheme after churches and charities involved in 28 out of 32 work placements said no to the jackets.

The introduction of the compulsory "community payback" jackets on 1 December has provoked a row within the criminal justice system with the government's crime adviser, Louise Casey, citing probation service opposition as yet another example of its "institutional reluctance to put the public first".

The justice minister, David Hanson, fuelled the debate last night by saying he rejected the results of the Napo survey and expected all 42 probation areas to implement the introduction of the high-visibility clothing. "The public expects to see justice being done, and this is what the jackets achieve," he said.

The justice ministry has bought more than 10,000 vests or jackets with the "community payback" logo on them for use by offenders in England and Wales.

Harry Fletcher, assistant general secretary of Napo, said organisations, including churches and charities, that offer unpaid work placements for offenders had become wary of using the vests after incidents of offenders being abused by the public, including missiles being thrown at them. "Many of these organisations are faith-based groups who believe it is not their role to oversee humiliation," he said, adding that in one area a group of youths had chanted "nonces, smackheads, lowlifes" at one work group.

Fletcher said in one south Midlands probation area, organisations involved in 28 out of 32 placements said they did not want the vests, while in another area in the north-east 11 out of 20 rejected them. He added: "Most have said that unpaid work is punishment in itself and that the addition of the vests was humiliating and demeaning. About a third of placements involve working in charity shops and organisers there have said the wearing of vests would deter members of the public and affect their takings."

The Napo survey says there have been a number of incidents involving members of the public intimidating and abusing offenders wearing the orange jackets. It also cites two incidents involving firearms being discharged at offenders before the scheme went national this month.

More than 55,000 people a year are sentenced to carry out unpaid work in the community, with most placements involving environmental, decorating and cleaning works including litter picking and graffiti cleaning. One third involve individual placements working in charity shops, in day centres for the elderly and homeless people, and supporting adults with learning difficulties.

Hanson, however, has challenged the survey's findings. He said: "The violent incidents they refer to had nothing to do with the jackets. They happened before their introduction so the offenders in question weren't even wearing them."

He said hundreds of community-payback projects across the UK were complying with the requirement to ensure offenders wear their vests. "This survey appears to be based on a handful of deliberately selected cases," he said. "Early indications are that communities are pleased to see offenders giving something back."


  1. On the theme of "ideas gone bad"...

    Revealed: the ‘postcode lottery’ of benefit sanctions that hit one in 12 looking for work

    Rate of universal credit claimants whose payments are cut or cancelled has doubled since pre-pandemic for those expected to do full-time work search

    ‘Postcode lottery’ means northern jobcentres impose disproportionately more sanctions, IPPR research finds

    Think tank urges government to pause all sanctions until inflation is brought under control

    The government should stop imposing punitive benefit cuts on people claiming universal credit until the cost-of-living crisis has eased, the IPPR think tank urges today.

    The report comes just days after Jeremy Hunt, the chancellor, said he would expand the existing regime to include more stay-at-home parents, and apply rules more rigorously to people who do not meet strict requirements to search for work, as part of his spring Budget.

    Overall, people on universal credit in the north of England (North East, North West, Yorkshire and the Humber) are more likely to be sanctioned than those in other English regions, or in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

    Men are 2.6 times more likely to be sanctioned than women, and young men are more likely to be sanctioned than other demographic groups – with one in five subject to sanctions."

    That suggests that 20% of young unemployed men - certainly the bulk of most probation caseloads - are subject to benefit sanctions.

    Unemployed - get sanctioned - not enough money - commit an offence - get fined - even less money - commit another offence - get probation - have to fund bus fares to appointments - even less money again - commit another offence - get jailed...

    Or become a tory MP & earn £1500/hour *on top of* £84,000 annual salary

  2. @DannyShawNews has been busy:

    "Flaws in Govt anti-social behaviour plan.

    There is a backlog of millions of hours of ‘community payback’ - unpaid work orders, largely due to Covid…so the idea of people carrying it out within 48 hours is unrealistic, to put it mildly.

    Here’s the published data from 27 June 2022"

    From that link:

    EMids region - 374,000 hours outstanding/to be worked
    East England - 514,000 hrs
    Gtr Manc - 345,000 hrs
    KSS - 360,000 hrs
    London - 849,000
    NEast - 200,000
    NWest - 510,000
    SCentral - 351,000
    SWest - 404,000
    Wales - 304,000
    WestMids - 403,000
    Yorks etc - 688,000

    Actual Grand Total - 5,305,492 hrs @ 27 June 2022

    "It is worth noting that some recording of hours sentenced or worked takes place retrospectively and therefore won't be included in this data."

    And as for govt listening to experts (ref Gove on tv today) we know how careful they are at taking note:

    "Supply & sale of nitrous oxide (laughing gas) is already illegal under Psychoactive Substances Act.

    Govt drug advisers - ACMD - said further legislation unnecessary.

    So why is @ukhomeoffice going against expert advice?"

    1. Zero chance of Sunak’s 48 hour start. Good luck to probation workers explaining that in Court. There’re thousands of outstanding hours that couldn’t be completed during Covid. Even though the requirements have expired and there’s not enough staff, the idiotic probation service continues to extend these Orders to demand completion. Offenders shouldn’t be held responsible for probations inability to man community service worksites. Good solicitors easily get these applications thrown out of court.

  3. I think some of these plans are starting down a dangerous road.
    There can't be any judicial process if within 48 hrs work has to be done. Who therefore decides culpability and decides punishment? The police? Surely with the recent revelations that's something beyond what the police can be trusted with at this time? Serco? G4s?
    Police and crime commissioners get a far bigger say on how to deal with anti social behaviour and what punishments fits the offence. Regional and variable degrees of punishment focused on reelection rather then fairness or suitability?
    The public choosing what punishment should be administered? Maybe stocks on the village green? Neighbourhood vigilante associations?
    I think some of these plans are just simply idiotic.
    For those that do get processed through the judicial system and are sentenced to unpaid work I see little contribution to rehabilitation by being made to wear little yellow suits. If anything I feel it's likely to reinforce the very attitudes unpaid work is hoping to change.
    I'm inclined to think the high visibility of punishment in the community is being designed to misdirect the public's attention away from noticing that less people are being sent to prison because there just isn't any room.
    An election looms not to far away so pick an emotive subject like crime and punishment, shake everything up without consideration for any possible consequences (Labour are just as bad as the Tories in this respect), and everyone else can run around picking up the pieces and trying to put the square peg in the round hole.
    I wouldn't be surprised to see by this time next year migrants in yellow suits wahing graffiti from shopping centre walls and those on unpaid work being flown to Rwanda!


    1. With current state of the racist, sexist and homophobic police, they shouldn’t be involved in anything!

      I don’t know why Sunak stopped at orange jumpsuits. May as go all the way and start making ankle shackles so offenders can be formed into chain gangs. That’d fix the problems with potholes scourging our roads.


      Sources of information for arrival

      * Convict transportation registers

      Convict transportation registers generally includes the convict's name and their sentence, the name and date of departure of the ship on which the convict was transported to Australia, and the colony in Australia a convict was sent.

      * Convict indents

      Convict indents record the arrival of convicts into New South Wales. Convict indents generally provide the following information:

      names and aliases
      marital status
      number of children
      physical description
      trial date and place, crime and native place.

      Early indents may not include all details.

      * Conduct records

      The conduct records generally list:

      name and aliases,
      marital status and children
      crime and sentence
      place and date of trial
      ship of transportation
      assignments, colonial offences and punishments
      dates of Ticket of Leave and Freedom.

      Early conduct records may have less detail.

  4. tory policing policy to justify crime figures:

    Police stopped and strip-searched more than 2,800 children in four years - with the youngest only 8-years-old, a damning new report has revealed.

    Using data for forces across England Wales, Children’s Commissioner Dame Rachel de Souza found that nearly a quarter of children strip-searched were aged between 10 and 15.

    More than a third (38%) of those strip-searched were black, and with black children making up 5.9% of the population that makes them more than six times more likely to be targeted.

    Overall, 2,847 strip-searches took place between 2018 and mid-2022 of children aged between eight and 17.

    The report will be published on Monday and comes after the Child Q scandal which came to light last March.


      I conducted my first project on strip searching because I was shocked and appalled by what happened to Child Q in Hackney last year. I felt that I owed it to her to establish whether she was the only child this has happened to. She wasn’t.

      Those findings, published last August in relation to the Metropolitan Police, were deeply concerning. They revealed that there were systemic problems with transparency, scrutiny and non-compliance with guidelines when children were being strip searched under stop and search powers.

      I am now releasing further never-before-published analysis of strip searches of children conducted by police under their stop and search powers across England and Wales. What this shows is that this is not an isolated problem, limited to London. Across England and Wales, police are strip searching children as part of stop and searches and there is evidence of deeply concerning practice.

      My findings include evidence of widespread non-compliance with the statutory safeguards in place to protect children, including the lack of Appropriate Adults in more than half of searches and strip searches being conducted in schools, police vehicles, and within public view.

      I have serious concerns about the poor quality of record-keeping, which makes transparency and scrutiny very difficult, and means that the numbers in this report may only be a minimum. Further, I find it utterly unacceptable that Black children are up to six times more likely to be strip searched when compared to national population figures.

      I have talked to senior police officers, who have explained to me why it is sometimes necessary to strip search children for their own safety. I accept in certain, limited situations this may be necessary.

      My challenge in response is that if this intrusive and potentially traumatic power is necessary, then there must be robust safeguards. The additional complexity of conducting these searches during astop and search should mean that there is a higher degree of scrutiny than if conducted in custody, not less. I do not see a working system of safeguards.

    2. During Parliamentary Q's about this report the Govt insisted that there was nothing to see here, that "the party opposite" were trying to make political gain by raising the issue, that stop-&-search + stripsearch of children was "necessary" to maintain law & order, that "statistics & data collection was essential to maintain a view"... and the DUP wanted to link this debate to the increase in terrorism threat in N I. (nothing to do with their determination to undermine the rule of law, to use brexit & windsor as a smokescreen for disenfranchising Sinn Fein?)


      Because its a pity the tories don't hold such a view about covid stats (the ONS updates were pulled last week), or vaccinations (again, pulled by this tory regime for most people). Meantime the covid infection rate is escalating; and that's from a much higher baseline than ever before. So the impact upon medical services aka the NHS will be more significant. That's what they don't want people to know... so they can shaft the NHS on pay.

      We need to recognise the fact that the tories do not want to acknowledge covid as the vascular disease it truly is; they want to argue its just a bad cold.

      So why did liarliar johnson claim it almost killed him if its just a bad cold? He repeated that claim during his Privileges Committee interrogation. FACT: it did *not* almost kill him because he had a milder infection than many, he had timely medical intervention of the highest calibre... and access to any & every treatment that was available...

      ... unlike the thousands of elderly & infirm & vulnerbale he condemned to death with his stuttering & umming & ahhing & listening to the EWG & failing to act in a timeley manner as the PM of the country.

  5. The fact that such rubbish is promoted speaks volumes about either (or rather both)the idiocy of the PM and/or the pathetic advice he has received from the MoJ... if he asked for any. What standing do Unison and Napo media/parliamentary liaison leads have now I wonder that there is such limited intelligent counter response from either Labour or anyone with half a brain in the Tory government.

  6. "Community Service" has a nice ring to it I always thought. Cut my probation eye teeth there many years ago.
    Principles we worked with - not sure we ever wrote them down, which is a pity.
    - we never did work that a paid employee would otherwise have done
    - we looked for work placements that would give genuine service to the community, and satisfaction to those doing the work: meaningful, appreciated, dignified.
    - we tried to avoid placements which took our clients out of their (usually deprived) communities, and plonked them in an affluent suburb tarting up the park/church hall.
    Of course we didnt always get it right, but at its best, it was genuinely inspiring and a really positive experience for our clients, us, and their communities.
    Of course it was a punishment, but that word was rarely if ever used. We had regular visits on projects by magistrates, and we were proud to show them around,

  7. Off topic but cannot sleep so waded through 3 episodes of crown court from 1972. How fantastic to see a trial for violence provoked by a series of misunderstood mental health issues of the day. Of course the canka of police overstepping their authority and pointing employers of the teacher finally came out. These stories illustrate the social change we have seen but the bad guys remain those incredibly dated clothing of the police wolves in sheep's suits nasty. The barristers challenge changing so I'll perception that people are not just violent but may be mentally disturbed to cause interference in normal day living. For any fellow insomniacs a stark reminder of the dark uniformed force of the police. See it on catch up TV for daytime viewings .

  8. Rishi Sunak’s anti-social behaviour action plan is ‘dressing old laws up in new clothes’

    The prime minister’s plan could see rough sleepers fined up to £500 for breaching community orders and criminalised in similar ways to axed 200-year-old Vagrancy Act

    13 years of tory rule - all they seem to have achieved is the promotion of a series of laws & policies that amount to 21st century genocide - cleaning up the UK by eradicating the elderly, the infirm, the poor, the homeless...

  9. You know it strikes me that may be a way forward out of this dreadful situation is to take a leaf out of the French response to neo-liberal bollocks. We have the most corrupt government this country has endured since Lloyd George. They splatter money around for cronies, pull in dubious earnings from second roles, lapped up millions from Russian donors and basically shafted everybody else. Perhaps if we stood up and burned a few banks and government buildings they would sit up and listen….but sadly the British prefer to moan and groan and then watch the telly and moan and groan. In fact not dissimilar to many of the comments on this glorious blog. I’m not going to bone on but, as I have said previously there are ways to sabotage any system. There are also ways to regain a level of control over your employers…do your hours and leave the rest, keep a record of your work and cover your back. It’s hardly rocket science.