Community sentences

When passing sentence on 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.

What types of Community Sentences are there?

There is a range of community orders available for adults including:

Compulsory unpaid work

Offenders are required to work for up to 300 hours on local community projects under close supervision. The work may include:

  • Cleaning litter;
  • Clearing public land;
  • Redecorating community centres and other public buildings;
  • Removing graffiti in public spaces.

Participation in specified activities

This could include a wide range of activities, such as day centre activities, education and learning, and basic skills assessment and training.

Programmes aimed at changing offending behaviour

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:

  • One-to-One Programme: A general offenders programme designed to change their attitudes and values that might contribute to the offender’s behaviour;
  • Enhanced Thinking Skills Programme (ETS): A general offending behaviour programme used with a group context. The programme challenges and changes attitudes and values that might be responsible for the offender’s behaviour;
  • Community Sex Offender Group-work Programme (CSOP): Designed for men who have been convicted of a sexual offence against a child or adult. This group programme is reinforced by individual work with the supervising officer;
  • Integrated Domestic Abuse Programme (IDAP): This programme uses group-work for men to confront domestic violence and abuse. It promotes the co-operation between the agencies concerned with domestic violence;
  • Controlling Anger and Learning to Manage it (CALM): This programme uses group-work for men to help them manage their anger and prevent them from offending when they lose their temper;
  • Drink Impaired Drivers (DIDs): A programme designed to inform offenders and change their attitudes that contribute to drink-impaired driving;
  • Offender Substance Abuse Programme (OSAP): A programme designed to raise awareness of the link between offending behaviour and substance misuse to help offenders gain the skills to stop substance misuse and therefore stop offending.

Prohibition from certain activities

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.

Exclusion from specific areas

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.

Residence requirement

The offender can be ordered by the court to reside at a specified hostel or private address.

Attendance centre

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.

Mental health treatment

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:

  • Monitoring and reviewing patterns of behaviour;
  • Helping to increase the offender’s motivation;
  • Providing practical support to help the offender comply with the order;
  • Support and reinforce learning;
  • Modelling of pro-social behaviour.

Drug treatment and testing

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.

Alcohol treatment

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.

The National Probation Service (NPS)

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.

What probation officers do

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:

  • Monitor the offender’s activities;
  • Help the offender deal with drug and alcohol addiction;
  • Inform the court of any problems they see in the offender’s behaviour.

Probation hostels

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.

About the Author

Nicola Laver LLB

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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