When passingon conviction, judges and magistrates have three options depending on the offence in question: prison, community sentence and/or a fine. The community sentence (also known as a community order), may be preferable to a custodial sentence – either because a custodial sentence will not help to rehabilitate the offender, or because prison does not necessarily fit the crime.
Community sentences allow offenders to undertake a rehabilitation programme, and work in the community while under the supervision of the probation service.
There is a range of community orders available for adults including:
Offenders are required to work for up to 300 hours on local community projects under close supervision. The work may include:
This could include a wide range of activities, such as day centre activities, education and learning, and basic skills assessment and training.
The offender may be required to attend a group or individual programme to help the offender change their pattern of behaviour. There is a range of specifically designed programmes accredited by the Home Office and follow a national core curriculum. They include:
Offenders can be prevented from participating in certain activities for a specific time period. This could be any activity that the offender could get involved in that is likely to lead them to commit a crime.
The court may impose a curfew in order to reduce opportunities for criminal activity or to protect the community.
The court can direct that offenders must not enter a specific area for any period of up to two years. This could include certain streets or certain shops.
The offender can be ordered by the court to reside at a specified hostel or private address.
The offender can be ordered to spend from 12 to 36 hours at an attendance centre, for a maximum of 3 hours per day. This offers a structured group environment enabling offenders to address their offending behaviour.
The offender can be ordered to undergo treatment by a medical practitioner or psychologist with the intention of improving their mental condition. The offender must consent before such an order is made.
The court can order the offender to attend appointments with a manager from the Probation Service. The frequency and content of the supervision will be specified in the sentence, and can include:
A drug treatment requirement will provide a rehabilitation programme with the aim of reducing drug related offences. With the offender’s consent, the probation and treatment services will set out a treatment plan, including testing and the requirement of the different stages of the order.
An alcohol treatment requirement will provide a specifically designed treatment programme with the goal of reducing dependency on alcohol. The treatment requirement can last from six months to three years.
Community orders are managed by probation officers from the NPS who plan and co-ordinate the supervision programme. The NPS is divided into 42 regional probation areas, each responsible for the people in its area. If an offender is placed on probation they must not break the terms of the community order. If they breach the order, they will be re-sentenced and could be sent to prison.
Probation officers work with people and their families to reduce the chances of them re-offending. They will encourage offenders to look at the reasons why they have offended and motivate them to change. They also focus on the offender accepting responsibility for their actions and gaining an awareness of the impact of their actions on others. A probation officer will:
As part of a residence requirement the court could require the offender to live in a probation hostel, or ‘approved premises’. There will be a high level of security, with CCTV cameras and alarms. They are staffed around the clock and residents are subject to continuous assessment. Offenders must abide by the hostel’s curfew and rules. The rules are there to keep the offender away from the people, places and activities that might lead them to re-offend.
Nicola is a dual qualified journalist and non-practising solicitor. She is a legal journalist, editor and author with more than 20 years' experience writing about the law.
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