Sentences in the community: reforms to restore credibility, protect the public and cut crime

Document type
Boyd, Edward; Miles, Rosie
Centre for Social Justice
Date of publication
15 May 2014
Criminal Justice Services, Resettlement
Social welfare
Material type

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Community sentences are the most commonly used sentence for serious crimes and have the potential to be the most powerful tool for addressing the root causes of offending behaviour. By carrying out sentences in the community, rather than prison, it is far easier and cheaper to provide support that addresses underlying issues, such as drug and alcohol addiction.

Yet despite community sentences’ potential, they are proving largely ineffective at changing lives. A third of offenders are caught reoffending within a year of being sentenced, committing around 150,000 further crimes. Instead of stopping offending in its tracks, community sentences have become a stepping stone on the path to prison. This was highlighted by Ministry of Justice figures which showed that 37,019 (35 per cent) of those sentenced to custody in 2012 had received at least five previous community sentences.

It is not difficult to see why they are failing. Offenders are not held properly to account for complying with their sentence, and the main weapon against drug addiction – the drug rehabilitation requirement (DRR) – is more likely to sanction people for whether they attend meetings than whether they come off drugs. Despite clear evidence of the importance of a positive family influence in persuading offenders to leave a life of crime, families are too often shut out from the rehabilitative process.

This report sets out the current challenges facing community sentences, and presents ideas on how to make them more effective at reducing reoffending.

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