Penal Reform: Tougher Community Payback for Unemployed Offenders

Community payback sentences that allow offenders to avoid prisons are getting tougher.


As an alternative to prison, unemployed offenders will now face a full week of work under a mandate by the Ministry of Justice. Many offenders have been able to fulfill a “community payback” sentence in lieu of prison, but this sentence now includes the possibility of hard manual labor.

Increased Commitment

The Ministry urges courts to make sure these offenders work at least 28 hours over a four-day period, with the fifth day being spent looking for work lest they forfeit their job-seekers’ allowance. Previously offenders could do their community service over a 12 month period, with some offenders doing just 6 hours a week of unpaid labor to avoid prison.

The time these offenders have to begin their sentence is also being cut in half: in the past, the work needed to begin within two weeks of their sentencing, while now they have seven days to begin. Throughout England and Wales, the 100,000 offenders who are given community payback as an option by the probation service do more than 8.8 million hours of unpaid work.

Breaking the Cycle

Community payback sentences include picking up litter, cleaning graffiti, and maintaining public spaces. Now, however, they can also face labor at a community farm. Crispin Blunt, the prisons and probation minister, says that this scheme will help make unemployed offenders become used to hard and meaningful work, which has been proven to break the cycle of unemployment and crime. “If you are unemployed and on community payback you shouldn’t be sitting idle at home watching daytime television or hanging about with your mates on a street corner. You should be out paying back to your community… through hard, honest work,” said Blunt.

“The public want to see offenders giving something back to their communities,” says Blunt, “but they are rightly not satisfied with seeing only a handful of hours a week dished out. Decent, law-abiding people can work a full five-day week and so should offenders.” He calls the success story of community payback something that is not suitable for privatization.

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