Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Pay Back gets worse

Those who wish to humiliate offenders are to be given a say locally in what sort of community punishment they undertake. North East Lincolnshire is to be one of the pilot areas for this experiment. The Probation Service (which is responsible for supervising work undertaken under community service orders) will have to put up five projects, and these will then be voted upon online to decide which is to be carried out.

I’ve blogged twice recently about one of our churches not being happy to have offenders wear ‘Community Pay Back’ high visibility jackets when they help keep its large churchyard maintained and tidy. At the end of last year the National Association of Probation Officers reported dozens of cases of offenders being abused, including a group of youths taunting one group as ‘nonces, smackheads and low lifes’ and things being thrown.

On 25th February I reproduced our letter to the Probation Service when we were being put under pressure to change our minds. 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.

Now the Government has selected exactly the method of consultation which will give those voices a real say. It will continue to maintain that its aim is to strengthen public confidence in the justice system by making sure that people know that community punishment is not a soft option. In doing so, it will simply fail to take into account the real motivation of many of the voices it will then have to heed.

A week ago I blogged about a new Conservative Think Tank report recommending a more constructive approach to prison regimes (even though the authors realised that their natural supporters may not understand why their experiences forced them to these conclusions). It is disorientating a week later to blog about a Labour Government experiment in providing what there is a real danger will be a less constructive approach to community punishment.

Perhaps a quiet but well orchestrated local church initiative could maximise the votes cast for constructive projects in which offenders can take pride and learn skills rather than for those which are menial or which put the offenders on display.

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