This evening I have been serving on a Probation Community Payback committee which was a fascinating insight into the way that community justice is now working. It was made up of a selection of community representatives - from parish councillors to JPs - all of whom rank different projects for offenders to work on.
There are a range of community orders which are tailored to punish the offender and to protect the public and to reduce reoffending via programmes and supervision to help and change the offenders life style (this reduces reoffending and therefore protects the public from further crime) and in fact the reoffending rates of people on these schemes is roughly half of those who go into prison (however we should note that their crimes tend to be of a lesser nature).
Help (in this case) can mean, sign posting to agencies that can help with housing, benefits, education, training and employment. Stable housing and employment are key elements to reducing reoffending. Programmes and supervision aim to change an offender’s behaviour, thinking and attitudes. The principle of changing offenders behaviour, thinking and attitudes, is reflected throughout probation.
An offender can receive between 40 and 300 hours and in Norfolk there are roughly 150,000 hours of work done every year through this source. It deprives the offender of time, sets clear boundaries and acceptable behaviour. It establishes a work ethos (offenders arrive at 9am), the work is purposeful and of value to the community. It teaches social and work-based skills. Unpaid Work is a disciplined activity. The Community Payback element of Unpaid Work aims to promote reparation through offenders making amends for their crimes. Last year over 120 thousand hours of labour were worked helping local voluntary, community, charity, faith groups and parish councils maintain areas for public use, where funds are not available and the work would not have taken place.
It was a very professional event and a very interesting debate. In 4 months time we are invited back to see how the projects have progressed. As a self-confessed "restorative justice" sceptic I shall be very interested to see the results.