Unpaid work element of existing community payback orders to be reduced by a third
The unpaid work element of community payback orders (CPOs) will be slashed by more than a third in most cases in order to ease pressure on local authorities during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The new measures announced by the Scottish government will not include CPOs imposed for domestic abuse, sexual offences or stalking.
The unpaid work element imposed in existing CPOs for other offences, however, will be reduced by 35 per cent through new regulations.
The move follows analysis which suggests that if court business was to return to pre-covid levels in March while the capacity to deliver unpaid work remained very constrained, there could be in excess of one million hours outstanding by July if no other action is taken.
Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf said: “Scotland’s justice social workers and other community justice staff play a critical - though often unseen - role in ensuring the delivery of community-based sentences that, in recent years, have contributed to record low reconviction rates which in turn help keep crime down and communities safe, with fewer victims.
“The public health challenges they have faced during the pandemic were recognised by Parliament when it approved provisions in the Coronavirus (Scotland) Act to allow community orders, including unpaid work, to be varied if necessary.
“It is clearly important for all those involved to ensure justice is carried out swiftly and effectively and that confidence in community orders is retained. This challenge, by no means exclusive to Scotland, requires a balanced and sensitive response. While I acknowledge that some may have concerns, I can assure victims of crime and others that the justice system continues to hold those who commit offences to account.
“This proportionate measure will help address the unavoidable build-up of unpaid work resulting from essential public health restrictions, while ensuring that those on community orders still serve the majority of their sentences.”
Cllr Kelly Parry, COSLA spokesperson for community wellbeing, said: “Since the start of the pandemic a huge backlog of unpaid work hours for community payback orders has built up. Not dealing with this will lead to unsafe work practices for our and other staff and local authority Justice Social Work services could be overwhelmed.
“I welcome the measures being proposed as they will still mean that those who have been sentenced will still pay their debt – and those who have committed crimes of domestic abuse, sexual offences, or stalking will serve their sentences in full.”
James Maybee, chair of the Social Work Scotland Justice standing committee, said: “During the pandemic, social workers have continued to provide crucial supervision and support to individuals on community payback orders, but it’s right with regard to unpaid work that we consider the capacity and safety of those professionals to continue doing that, alongside individuals in the justice system carrying out sentences, and the community.”