The Government appears to be putting the Probation Service under a lot of pressure to reduce the high level of refusal by host organisations who had been asked to allow offenders sentenced to unpaid work with them to wear ‘Community Payback’ high visibility jackets. I posted on 4th December about one of our churches doing this.
We’ve now had a letter from the local Probation Trust asking us to reconsider. The letter quotes Government guidance which states ‘it is fundamental to public confidence that the community is able to see Community Payback work take place in their areas and the use of high visibility jackets is an important part of this’ while also saying ‘please be assured of our gratitude for the placement provided by you - I would not want this matter to become an irreconcilable issue between our organisations’.
I’ve replied in the same terms as my previous post:
Thank you for your letter which has been passed to me so that I can reply on behalf of St Nicolas’, Great Coates (although I am sorry that the tight deadline for a reply prevents me from discussing the matter further with the Church Council before doing so).
I am sorry that the Government’s dissatisfaction with the large number of hosts who have refused to accept its proposal that high visibility Community Payback jackets should be worn by offenders undertaking unpaid work with them has led it to put pressure on you, and I sympathise with the embarrassment you clearly feel in having to write to us about this.
Officials at the Ministry of Justice will be among those most familiar with the way in which policy initiatives can have unintended consequences and the way in which they can be supported by those with a very different agenda from the proposers. This is what appears to have happened with this particular policy proposal. An examination of the comments left by supporters of this proposal on news web sites quickly and clearly reveals that, although the Government says that it merely seeks community awareness, the vast majority of those who write to support the proposal do so because they see it as a welcome tool for delivering humiliation and retribution.
Those undertaking unpaid work with us will do so in a Christian churchyard which is not a place in which to make a public spectacle of those making reparation and thus expose them not only to those who may be comforted by the greater visibility of the justice system but also those who wish to gloat over or even possibly harass them.
Incidently, the letter also says that a failure to reply will be taken as consent, which seems to be proving a popular approach to consultation at the moment - it is the approach a Bishop used in a consultation letter to us a few weeks ago about something totally different.