140. As with sentencers, public confidence is vital
if non-custodial sentences are to be used as widely as they might
be, and confidence requires at least some understanding of the
options available, what kind of sentence those options represent
and what kind of crimes are likely to warrant their use. The Home
Office's memorandum states that public awareness of non-custodial
sentencing options was mixed: "the most widely known are
community service orders (69 per cent of respondents) and fines
(58 per cent). Only a third identified probation. Others included
suspended sentences (30 per cent); compensation (16 per cent);
conditional discharges (8 per cent); and electronic tagging (7
141. The public also underestimate the extent to
which imprisonment is used. The survey states that 97 per cent
of adult males convicted of rape in 1995 were sent to prison,
but most respondents thought fewer than 60 per cent were; 61 per
cent of convicted adult male house-burglars were imprisoned in
1995, but most respondents thought 30 per cent or fewer were.
Also, while survey respondents thought 94 per cent of rapists,
84 per cent of muggers and 80 per cent of burglars should be imprisoned,
when asked to choose the most appropriate sentence in a particular
case (one where, in reality, a young burglar had been given a
two year sentence), only around half chose imprisonment, the remainder
choosing between various non-custodial options.
142. Despite this finding, the public still believe
that, in general, current sentencing practice is too lenient;
79 per cent believe this to be the case. However, the Home Office
memorandum states that "evidence suggests that this tends
to be a function of misconceptions about crime (that it is rising
rapidly) and justice (belief that the use of imprisonment is falling
and underestimation of its current use)".
143. This raises the question of how the public come
to form such misconceptions. The Howard League for Penal Reform
argued that when he was Home Secretary, Douglas (now Lord) Hurd
and his colleagues generated ideas which led to the probation
service taking "centre stage", but that "this more
moderate climate was subsequently swept away in the torrent of
high-pitched rhetoric and the political Dutch auction which has
been the hall-mark of criminal policy since the early 1990s".
They would presumably concur with the views of NACRO who stated
that "steps to inform the public of the current position
more accurately, through ministerial speeches and a systematic
strategy aimed at national and local media, as well as the production
of more accessible sentencing statistics, should form part of
a strategy to reduce pressure for further increases in the level
of custodial sentencing. More information and publicity highlighting
the range of options for dealing with crime and their effectiveness
also has an important part to play".
The Prisons and Probation Minister agreed that "Ministers'
speeches and pronouncements can also help...and we will try and
do that as well".
Other politicians also have a responsibility to inform public
opinion on this issue.
144. The media too has a role to play in its depiction
of community sentences. We appreciate the frustration of those
probation officers we met around the country who told us that
they were dismayed to see references in the press to offenders
given community sentences as "walking free". The Lord
Chief Justice told us: "I very much hope that the public
can be educated and the media can be educated to recognise that
community penalties are serious penalties and not getting away
with it. After all doing unpaid labour for 240 hours or any significant
number of hours is a deprivation of liberty and is a serious punishment".
145. We also recognise the
point made by ACOP that media discussion should recognise that:
"- 34 per cent of those under supervision have
a significant drugs problem;
- 35 per cent had an alcohol problem; some have both;
- 75 per cent are unemployed;...
- a quarter have significant debts;...
- 12 per cent have learning difficultiesa
rather larger proportion have significant literacy problems;
- 33 per cent had been in care".
146. Mrs Anne Fuller, of the Magistrates' Association,
made the point that sentencers also have a role in influencing
public opinion. She said: "as to changing the public's attitude,
everybody has to do very much more. Government needs to get the
message across about the limits of legislation. There is a Magistrates
in the Community project under which magistrates visit community
groups and do sentencing exercises with them... We are also encouraging
local benches to try to establish liaison with the local media,
because we certainly cannot do it all on our own by means of our
project. The project is a growing one. There are between 3,000
and 4,000 magistrates involved in visiting schools and community
groups. Much more needs to be done so that the public does not
make unfounded criticisms based on ignorance of what the law allows
us to do for certain offences".
147. The probation service must also take the initiative
in publicising its efforts. The Prisons and Probation Minister
stated "it can be effective, certainly at a regional and
local level, if some effort is made by probation services to highlight,
for example, new schemes which are particularly demanding or particular
services that offenders have provided to a community as a result
of doing some kind of probation work".
148. Public confidence in community sentences is
critically important and the probation service, politicians, the
media and sentencers all have a role in shaping it. We welcome
the assurance by the Prisons and Probation Minister that she and
her colleagues will help to publicise the good work undertaken
by the probation service and we look forward to them doing so.
Other politicians should also play their part in informing the
public about the work being carried out with offenders in the
community. We commend the work of those magistrates' benches who
are trying better to inform the public about sentencing decisions,
and we urge the Lord Chancellor's Department to disseminate good
practice in this respect and urge other benches to follow it.
We are aware as a result of our visits to probation services
around the country that some of them are becoming increasingly
adept at drawing the attention of sentencers and politicians to
the work they do; we think the next challenge for the probation
service is to focus their attention on the wider public and we
would urge them to take the kind of action recommended by the
Prisons and Probation Minister in publicising new and rigorous
initiatives taken to deal with offenders.
149. The media should act responsibly in their
depiction of community sentences, and not give the misleading
impression that those sentenced to community penalties have "got
off" or "walked free". We have learned a great
deal about the work of the probation service by visiting programmes
on the ground. The media, too, could benefit from such visits
and we urge them to do so.
used to describe community sentences
150. In a speech to the National Probation Convention
in November 1997, the Home Secretary said that attention needed
to be paid to "the public visibility and credibility of community
sentences as punishment". He argued that the language used
was often misleading; for instance that 'community service' gave
the quite misleading impression that this sentence involved some
kind of voluntary service". He also argued that to use the
term 'client' about offenders gave the false impression "that
probation staff are there primarily to work for the benefit of
offenders, with the public and the victims' interest subsidiary
to the offenders". Mrs Gaynor Houghton-Jones, of the Justices'
Clerks' Society, made the same point that the language used to
describe community sentences was widely misunderstood: "the
way that we talk about particular community penalties is important.
Does anyone know what a combination order is? It sounds like a
type of nineteenth century underwear. We need to be more imaginative
in the description of orders".
151. The Lord Chief Justice also thought that the
name "community service" was unfortunate, and thought
it should be renamed "criminal work order". He explained
why: "this was actually a suggestion put to me by a lay justice
in Wiltshire at a meeting I attended. She made the point that
it is an orderthere is nothing voluntary about itit
is an order which is made because a crime has been committed and
it involves work. I think that is a good title for it and it would
quite possibly alter the perception".
152. We agree wholeheartedly with the Home Secretary's
comments regarding the language used in relation to community
sentences; in particular we deplore the use of the term 'client'
to describe criminals who are serving sentences. We also agree
that the term 'community service' carries with it inappropriate
connotations of voluntary activity. We recommend adoption of the
suggestion made by the Lord Chief Justice that it should be retitled
'criminal work order'.
153. This section of the report has examined what
we have seen to be the key issues in increasing the effectiveness
of community sentences: identifying and disseminating the most
successful elements of such sentences, strengthening the means
of enforcement, supporting the operation of the probation services,
and enhancing the confidence in them of both sentencers and the
154. We have made a number of recommendations designed
to strengthen them. While these actions would undoubtedly help
improve the public's perception of community sentences, what
the public really want to hear is that these sentences are effective
in reducing crime. The most compelling argument that could possibly
be put forward for community sentences is that they are consistently
more effective than prison in reducing reoffending. Evidence exists
that some community sentences are more effective, but we note
again the findings of the Inspectorate that these programmes are,
overwhelmingly, not adequately evaluated in order to be able to
put forward this argument with conviction. We stress again the
vital need for the probation service to make sure their community
sentence programmes are evaluated properly and that the lessons
regarding which types of programmes are most effective are learned
and disseminated as widely as possible.
168 Measuring the Satisfaction of Courts with the Probation
Service, Home Office Research
Study 144, 1995, p 29. Back
Court Chief Clerks. Back
Office Annual Report 1998,
p 96. Back
the Satisfaction of Courts with the Probation Service,
Home Office Research Study 144, 1995, pp 32-33. Back
35 and 36. A note subsequently received stated that Lord Bingham
"would encourage judges to visit probation centres and community
service projects to improve their knowledge of the ... non-custodial
sentences they imposed." (Q 36, footnote 1). We understand
he has now taken this action. Back
the Satisfaction of Courts with the Probation Service,
Home Office Research Study 144, 1995, pp 32-33. Back
174 ibid. Back
1, para 160. Back
1, para 105. Figures are from the 1996 British Crime Survey. Back
paras 106-108. Back
para 110. Back
2, section 7. Back