Community payback orders in Borders ‘of no benefit to convicts’

Criminals undertaking community payback orders (CPOs) in the Scottish Borders have good relationships with staff but there are doubts about any benefits from the punishment, inspections have found.

The management of CPOs has been criticised after inspectors found justice services in the Borders were “unable to demonstrate what difference they were making to the life chances of individuals”.

A lack of priorities and measurable targets in the region also “significantly limited their ability to identify and plan for improvements”, the Care Inspectorate report found.

In the first inspection of its kind, justice social work services in the area for people given CPOs by a court were assessed between November 2018 and January 2019.

The team of inspectors found offenders “experienced strong, respectful and consistent relationships with staff” and their risks, needs and requirements were well-understood.

However, the report said the organisation and delivery of the unpaid work service “was not operating as effectively as it should” and the local authority has been told to put in place an improvement plan to address the issues raised.

People given community payback orders by a court can be made to carry out between 20 and 300 hours of unpaid work, or carry out treatment programmes for alcohol or drug use.

Care Inspectorate chief executive Peter Macleod said: “There has been significant change in criminal justice social work over the last decade, including the introduction of community payback orders in 2011.

“Effective community-based sentencing options are essential to the successful implementation of the Scottish Government’s community justice strategy and the extension of the presumption against short sentences.

“In this context, the Care Inspectorate has decided to focus inspections of justice social work services, at the present time, on how well community payback orders are implemented and managed as well as how effectively services are achieving positive outcomes.

“Today’s report identifies key strengths and areas which need to improve so that Scottish Borders Council can establish effective governance for justice social work and achieve positive outcomes for those subject to community payback orders.”

Approximately seven million hours of unpaid work has been carried out by people serving CPOs between their introduction in 2011 and February 2019, the Scottish Government say.

There were 17,800 started in 2017-18, of which 75% had an unpaid work or activity requirement.

In March, a freedom of information request by the Scottish Conservatives found a third of those court-ordered work placements handed down to offenders failed to get under way within a one-week target while more than 800 waited in excess of two months.

Scottish Government guidelines require offenders to begin their community
service within seven working days of getting a CPO from a judge but official figures show one in three work placements missed this target.

It prompted the Tories to warn that SNP plans to scrap prison sentences of less than a year would increase problems with the CPO system.