Community Justice Files 19

Article excerpt

The Community Order and the Suspended Sentence Order -Th ree Years On

This report is the final publication in the community sentences series by the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies. The report authors are George Ma ir from Liverpool John Moores University and Helen Mills from the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies. The report focuses on the views of probation officers and of people subject to community orders. It also looks at the trend in the use of these orders since their creation by the Criminal Justice Act 2003.

The report finds that the use of the suspended sentence order has grown significantly since its introduction. It is popular with magistrates and often used for summary offences. As a result, the suspended sentence order may be a route to prison for some offenders. There is little evidence that either the suspended sentence order or the community order is being used as an alternative to a short custodial sentence.

Some of the requirements available to the courts are only rarely used; alcohol treatment, mental health treatment, residence, exclusion, prohibited activity and the attendance centre requirements are all in this position. The use of unpaid work and curfew requirements have increased and the use of supervision and accredited programme requirements have decreased since 2005.

The probation officers interviewed in the study expressed reasonable confidence in the two orders. They would have welcomed the opportunity to use alcohol treatment and mental health requirements but these options were not often available. Thinking about the enforcement of orders, some probation officers argued that reoffending whilst subject to a suspended sentence order should always result in custody. Others also wanted the option to punish breaches of the requirements of these orders with a financial penalty. The probation officers questioned voiced their weariness with continual organisational and legislative change.

The small sample of offenders interviewed as part of this study viewed their orders in a fairly positive light and spoke about the importance of the relationship that they had with their supervising officer. Probation staff were perceived as helpful, understanding and easy to talk to. One offender summed up the probation officer's role by saying:

They're like a police officer, Jobcentre worker and social worker. Yeah they're all in one ...they can send you to prison, they worry about what you're up to, so it's just like a social worker, and yeah like a Jobcentre person because if you miss they're going to report you.

The report suggests that, given the importance of the relationship between offender and officer, consideration should be given to making a supervision element part of all community and suspended sentence orders.

The report judges these two orders to be a qualified success and notes that the probation service has implemented them smoothly. The authors conclude with some possible future difficulties:

* The decreasing use of supervision and accredited programmes could diminish the expertise of the probation service.

* Increased input into sentence plans by partner agencies which reduces contact between offender manager and offender risks making orders less effective.

* The introduction of the suspended sentence order blurs the boundary between the community sentence and the custodial sentence.

* The probation service is under considerable pressure with increased workloads.

* Probation service budgets are expected to reduce over the coming years.

The full report is available at http ://www. crime andj us tice . org.uk/sentenc eshr ee year son. html

Evaluation of HM Prison Service Enhanced Thinking Skills Programme - Outcomes from a Randomised Controlled Trial

This study was undertaken by Cynthia McDougall, Amanda E Perry, Jane Clarbour, Roger Bowles and Gillian Worthy from the University of York and published as part of the Ministry of Justice Research Series. …