'Jail for a day' scheme could cut reoffending, claims report

Published on Friday, 16 May 2014 10:13
Written by Govtoday staff

Serial offenders who breach community punishments could be instantly sent to jail for a day in a move that mirrors a highly successful US approach to reoffending, a new report says today.

The Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) found that many offenders who breach sentences being served in the community consider the punishments a 'laughing stock'.

The number of people given a sentence in the community who had at least 15 previous convictions or cautions has increased by 76% from 15,709 in 2003/4 to 27,632 in 2013, the study highlights.

Around a third of people given a sentence in the community are caught reoffending within a year and in 2012/13 some 17,066 offenders had their sentence scrapped because they did not comply with it.

The CSJ offers a host of recommendations for restoring credibility to sentences in the community, including a move that would see serial offenders who breach them sent to jail for a short period of time before continuing with the original order.

This would be similar to the 'Swift and Certain' (SAC) Programmes that are being used in around 20 states across America and which are dramatically reducing breach rates and reoffending.

"Many prolific offenders are refusing to take their punishment and rehabilitation seriously and are getting away with it," said Edward Boyd, editor of the Sentences in the Community report.

"What we have found in the United States is that the consequence of a day or two in prison shows offenders that they have to comply and means they take more responsibility.

"This approach is slashing reoffending rates as offenders realise they can't get away with breaking the rules. This new idea offers the government an opportunity to restore faith in community punishments."

The CSJ says sentences in the community have been undermined because authorities have a "lackadaisical approach" towards punishing breaches. The average breach hearing is usually not heard for several weeks.

Figures obtained by the CSJ also reveal there are unacceptable delays in some community sentences starting. The average wait between being sentenced and starting an accredited programme was as long as five months in some parts of the country, and two months on average.

The intervention designed to tackle drug use - the drug rehabilitation requirement
(DRR) - has the highest rate of reoffending, with 56% of offenders caught committing crime within a year.

The requirement, the CSJ found, does little to encourage recovery from drug addiction and is regularly 'gamed' by offenders. Many treatment providers use 'scheduled' rather than 'randomised' drug testing which offenders can manipulate simply by managing the timing of their drug use to avoid detection (many class A drugs only stay in the system for two to three days).

The CSJ heard that DRRs have a "perverse" approach where offenders are more likely to be sanctioned for turning up late for sessions than testing positive for class A drugs.

The report also recommends that new probation providers should inform magistrates of the outcomes of sentences in the community so that they can develop a greater awareness of which interventions are effective at rehabilitating offenders. It also says that courts should do more to include families in rehabilitation efforts.

Source: CSJ

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