Thursday, December 30, 2010

Community service delays unsatisfactory, says Lib Dem MSP Robert Brown, he wants the current dogma to run faster when changing the system is needed

Dear All

Public Service reform is a topic has a certain strength at the moment, not just because of the cuts coming down the line but because when tested some services leave a lot to be desired.

Criminal Justice is in some aspects like a road that goes nowhere, once a person is sentenced to community service; the justice system that has processed them appears to grind to a halt because the interface with the councils doesn’t work.

At present there are delays in offenders starting their stint of community service and this is allegedly damaging the current system.

The majority of local authorities it is said are failing to meet the Scottish Government’s seven-day target.

And the number of councils that cannot get their act together is shocking, two out of 32 councils confirm all offenders sentenced to Community Service Orders in September in their area were set to work within a week.

This is a failure of not just management but of the Councillors themselves.

Surely, it is clear that there must be a system in place where the provision of work is geared up ready to go.

This can either be stand alone or integrated within existing departments personnel.

And then there is the issue of reform, if people have skills which are of use then surely a better return is to use them generating a benefit rather than the idea of the old fashioned ‘chain gang’ approach.

It may satisfy the ‘tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime’ brigade but doesn’t satisfy the need to make crime pay for the victims and the State.

Liberal Dem justice spokesman, Robert Brown said of the delays:

“This is not at all a satisfactory position. Liberal Democrats have always been clear that community sentences have to be speedy, effective and of high quality. Robust and effective community sentences are a much better option than very short prison sentences, which just don’t work. But in order for community sentences to fulfil their real potential for both offenders and communities, these work placements must be properly implemented, within given time frames. In some areas, offenders kick their heels for almost a month before their sentence begins. This does neither the victim nor the offender any favours.”

Lots of rhetoric from Brown, big on brush stroke and short on detail, for someone who speaks on justice I would expect him to fill in the blanks; he appears to be talking about speeding up the process when reform of the process must run parallel to that as well.

Once the justice system has coughed out an offender, the council must take a more active role but there also needs to be Scottish Government help to fundamentally change the nature of community sentences to so that benefit the community more than they currently do.

If people have useable skills then they should be slotted into council departments rather like the concept of short term contracts, it is time to think of community service in these terms.

Society benefits, the offender pays their due, the victim gets justice and the council gets additional manpower for free.

Clearly in Scotland there is need for a new radical agenda that thinks pass current dogma.

Yours sincerely

George Laird
The Campaign for Human Rights at Glasgow University

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