On the 27th March, the Ministry of Justice published a Consultation looking at an overhaul of current community sentences in a bid to make them tougher and ‘more credible’.
Electronically Monitored Curfews
The proposals include giving the Court greater power when considering the length of electronically monitored curfews, which could see offenders being subjected to curfews for up to 16 hours a day for 12 months, ensuring that every community order has a punitive element to it. It is estimated that these plans could result in 120,000 people a day being subjected to these curfews.
These proposals appear to be in response to criticism that community orders are too lenient and essentially fail to rehabilitate offenders, although critics are concerned that the more onerous an order is, the more likely a person is to breach it, and, ultimately, end up in custody. Assistant General Secretary of the Probation union Napo, Harry Fletcher said:
“The more punitive the order is made by government, the higher the breach rate.”
Certainly the current system cannot be described as perfect, however in fairness to Probation, their Officers work hard, under extreme pressure, and are regularly dealing with difficult people. No overhaul of the sentences available will address any of these issues, and in some cases, it could be argued that the more punitive a community order is, the less willing a person may be to work with Probation to avoid further offending.
Tougher Sentencing Structure
It would also seem that the current sentencing structure does allow the Court to impose tougher and more intensive orders, which from experience, do achieve some notable successes. The Drug Rehabilitation Requirement, for example, which can become part of a community order when the offender is struggling with addictions, is an onerous requirement which necessitates offenders undertaking regular drug tests and attending Court in order to update them on their progress, not to mention regular contact with Probation and Drugs Workers.
As with any such order, the willingness of the offender to comply is crucial if success is to be achieved, and not all orders result in wholly reformed characters, but when they are successful, and undoubtedly they often are, the offender can break their cycle of criminality. Will the addition of stringent curfews assist in the success of these orders?
As with all sentences, including custodial sentences, some offenders will respond well, comply, and feel that the experience alone is a sufficient enough deterrent to avoid them re-offending. It may well be that the introduction of more robust and tough community based penalties could deter even more people from falling foul of the law. Or, as Napo observe, it could simply be that the stricter an order is, the more breaches there will be, which, in many cases, would lead ultimately to custody, which critics would suggest, is what the Ministers ultimately hope to avoid.
As ever, we will have to wait for the theories to be put into practice.