Sentences need to be carried out quicker

Margaret Mitchell MSP
Margaret Mitchell MSP

An MSP demands change after it was revealed hundreds of criminals handed community payback orders didn’t start the work for months.

Central Scotland list MSP Margaret Mitchell attacked the delays as making the courts look weak.

She also warned that the failures undermine the ability of the orders to successfully rehabilitate offenders.

Research by the Scottish Conservatives found 338 offenders last year did not start their community payback orders for more than four months after sentence was passed.

That’s an increase of 22 per cent in the space of 12 months, with hundreds more waiting over two months to get started. Some criminals are even waiting more than a year for their community payback orders to begin, with one waiting 511 days in 2014/15.

With so many delays Mrs Mitchell is concerned the system is not ready to take on more demand as the Scottish Government considers imposing a presumption against prison sentences of less than a year.

She said: “Everyone in Lanarkshire deserves a justice system that is credible and effective, so it’s crucial that these serious failings are urgently fixed.

“These sentences are meant to see an offender make amends by paying back to the particular communities harmed by their crime, as well as helping the individual to change their behaviour.

“Having to wait months after sentencing just to begin the work completely undermines community payback orders.

“Many offenders sentenced to a community payback order have difficult lives and significant delays can break the connection in their mind between the crime and the punishment, which does nothing to help rehabilitate the person.

“It would be far better for such offenders to receive the punishment and get the community payback order completed as soon as possible, allowing them to move on from their criminal past.

“The delays also undermine community payback orders by risking public confidence in these sentences. People believe criminals show up at court knowing they will probably get off lightly, and having months between a sentence being given and any work being carried out only furthers that mindset.

“The Scottish Government wants to empty jails by using more community payback orders, but the system is already unable to cope, and ministers need to explain how this will be addressed.”