This Tuesday, Justice Secretary Chris Grayling unveiled planned changes to the Crime and Courts bill which will significantly raise the punitive elements of current community orders. With an aim to restore public confidence in the seemingly ‘soft option’ sentence, all adult community orders will now have to contain some form of punishment. Proposals include satellite tracking through ankle tags, removal of the current caps on fines and awardable victim compensation, as well as the ability to take into account a person’s possessions and information stored with the DWP and HMRC when setting a financial penalty.
Sentencing of offenders has five main statutory objectives: punishment, rehabilitation, reparation, the reduction of crime and protection of the public. The application of community sentences in fulfilling these objectives is nothing new. However from 2003 the various types of orders available were replaced by one all-encompassing ‘community order’. This results in the offender not being sent to prison but having various ‘requirements’ attached to their sentence - ranging from unpaid work and prohibition from certain activities, to entering a set period drug rehabilitation programme.
What does this all mean in practice? Community sentences will now be more intrusive requiring proactive work on behalf of the offender - be it cleaning graffiti or picking up litter. Such reparation through rejuvenation of local communities will never prove unfavourable. It is unlikely, however, that the valued rehabilitative requirements will be hung out to dry as a result. The Ministry of Justice’s impact assessment stated, when Ken Clarke proposed much the same, that removing rehabilitation risked an increase in reoffending. Further, David Cameron’s plans for a “tough but intelligent approach” to sentencing, as announced this week, emphasised the use of private companies offering rehabilitative services under a ‘payment-by-results’ scheme. The tension between these two approaches needs to be appropriately balanced.
Talking tough on crime is easy and popular with voters. Making justice work is quite a different thing requiring a balancing of the different sentencing objectives to ensure none is overlooked to the detriment of society. If these plans are to make it from sound bites in a speech to workable policy the government is going to have to engage properly with - and resource sufficiently - all aspects of the criminal justice system. Whether they have the stomach for such a commitment in the current economic climate remains to be seen.