the friend online
23 January 2009

Shaming offenders is not the way

Stephen Taylor argues that people doing community sentence work should not have to wear brightly coloured jackets

The Prison Reform Trust dislikes the community payback high-visibility jacket (see above) scheme intensely, as does Napo – the trade union and professional association for Family Court and probation staff. While both organisations recognise that anti-social behaviour calls for appropriate punishment, they see no merit in drawing attention to these offenders. ‘Offenders should pay for what they have done, but this should be in an acceptable manner. There is no evidence that this approach will be successful’, said Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust.

In spite of this opposition, Jack Straw, the justice secretary, and Jacqui Smith, home secretary, both support the scheme.

But Juliet Lyon dismisses the idea as ‘political window dressing’ intended to win popular support for community sentencing. Despite a proven record in reducing recidivism, some members of the public continue to regard community sentencing as a soft option. In practice, it has proved particularly successful when young men have learned a skill.

Re-conviction rates for community sentencing are significantly lower than for custodial sentencing. Re-offending rates for all community sentences fell from 53.2 per cent in 2000 to 50.5 per cent in 2004. This compared to a rate of 64.7 per cent adults released from prison and 72.6 per cent for children.

Her thoughts were repeated by Harry Fletcher, assistant general secretary of Napo, who believes that wearing brightly coloured jackets creates the risk of assaults. Both reject the notion of ‘shaming’ offenders. Their opposition is the stronger because of the success of community sentencing programmes. Harry Fletcher quoted the example of the work that young offenders did in converting a derelict site at Salford. The initial hostility of local people to their presence changed to approval when they saw the good work that the offenders, all of them aged seventeen and upwards, achieved.

Official figures show that the number of community sentences rose steadily between 1996 and 2006, increasing from 132,600 to 190,800. Between 2005 and 2006 the figure decreased by seven per cent. The average length of a community order is fourteen months. Eighty- five per cent comprise one or two requirements. Supervision accounts for thirty-seven per cent of requirements, and unpaid work amounts to thirty-one per cent.

The case against ‘shaming’ may also be supported by the fact that nearly half of those serving community sentences have mental health concerns but in 2006 only 725 mental health treatment requirements were issued.
Additionally, half of those serving community sentences have been found to have an alcohol problem and a quarter to have a drug problem.

Figures in this article are taken from the Prison Reform Trust’s Bromley Briefing, June 2008.

Prison Reform Trust
Bromley Briefing June 2008
Community Payback press release

Stephen Taylor


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Spiritual concerns raised over ‘database state’
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Shaming offenders is not the way
Stephen Taylor
News round-up
Heathrow expansion – Another triumph for the Spirit of the Age?
Laurie Michaelis
Judy Kirby and Chuck Fager
Death of a Friend
Maggie Allder and Winchester Friends
Harry Albright
My testimony against state executions
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Jesus the Jew
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