Punishment and rehabilitation are decided by the courts although rehabilitative measures (such as attendance on drug or alcohol treatment programmes) can form part of a conditional caution, one of a range of out-of-court disposals (alternatives to prosecution) available under the criminal justice system for adults (18+). There are also alternatives to prosecution for youths (10 – 17). The current approach of the Ministry of Justice (September 2011) is to move towards rehabilitation within the community that has suffered as a result of an offender’s criminal behaviour. While not overly popular with the public as a whole, it was noted that a large number of those arrested and imprisoned after the August 2011English city riots and lootings had already been in prison and clearly this experience did not stop them offending again – even if they were, once again, sent to prison.
When someone is convicted and sent to prison, they pass into the care of the Prison Service. For a long sentence, they could be held in a prison anywhere in the country. For shorter sentences, however, they are likely to remain in their local area.
While public safety is paramount, everyone in prison has to be treated with fairness and humanity. As well as trying to reduce crime by promoting law abiding behaviour, the service aims to provide productive activities that will educate and rehabilitate prisoners so that, when they are released, they won’t re-offend.
The National Probation Service works with offenders either because they have just been released from prison, or because they have received a community sentence, for example a Community Rehabilitation Order or a Drug Treatment & Testing Order.
Programmes like these force offenders to understand the consequence of their actions and help them to change their behaviour. They are often combined with measures to tackle issues like illiteracy, unemployment or homelessness that can contribute to re-offending.
When potentially dangerous offenders are due for release, the National Probation Service works with other agencies to manage and monitor the situation to ensure the safety of the public and the offender.
The probation service also advises the courts on sentencing and re-offending risk, and keeps victims of serious crime informed about when offenders are due for release from prison.
Community sentences combine punishment with changing offenders’ behaviour and making amends – sometimes directly to the victim of the crime. Community sentences are not a soft option. They can include drug or alcohol treatment programmes which may be causing the offender to commit crime, compulsory (unpaid) work such as community projects or charity work, curfews during hours when the offender is most likely to commit crime, to list a few.
A number of national and local voluntary agencies help to rehabilitate offenders. One of the largest of these is Nacro (the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders), which works with more than 25,000 people each year. Nacro provides housing for prisoners, helps them to find work and involves families and communities in efforts to cut crime.
Every year, the courts order over seven million hours of community punishment to be supervised by the National Probation Service. This enforced, unpaid work ranges from painting schools to landscaping public parks and cleaning graffiti. It both benefits the community and punishes the offender.
‘Restorative justice’ is another community sentencing option. This provides an opportunity for victims, offenders and, sometimes, representatives of the community, to discuss an offence and how to repair the harm caused.
This can help offenders to understand the consequences of their actions and encourage them to make amends. Restorative justice can be a very powerful tool in reducing re-offending and giving victims a voice in the justice process.
Courtesy of Lee Bryant, Director of Sixth Form, Anglo-European School, Ingatestone, Essex