Community payback defended on Merseyside as TV show depicts drug taking ‘holiday camp’
THE man in charge of community payback in Liverpool has defended the practice of making criminals do odd jobs after a Government minister described it as a holiday camp.
A TV documentary aired this week showed young criminals smoking drugs and drinking cups of tea while carrying out community service orders.
Commissioner for Victims Louise Casey, who helped develop the payback scheme, responded by calling it a “holiday camp for offenders” and called for changes in the way it is implemented.
But John Stafford, Chief Executive Officer of the Merseyside Probation Trust, said the region’s 90 payback schemes helped save the community £1.5m every year.
He said: “The Probation Service generally and community payback specifically, deal with some of the most difficult and demanding individuals in our society, and managing them is a major challenge. It is a tribute therefore to the motivational techniques and skills of our staff that we are able to complete the enormous number of projects we take.”
A Tonight investigation showed criminals on community service doing nothing for long periods, being left unsupervised, and even breaking the law by smoking cannabis while serving their sentences.
The footage was filmed over six weeks at projects in Manchester, Nottingham and Derbyshire.
Justice minister Nick Herbert said: “Offending should always have consequences, and those who commit crimes must be punished properly with sentences administered rigorously.
“The scenes in this film where offenders effectively stick two fingers up to the system made me extremely angry.
“There can be no excuses for it. The probation trusts concerned are carrying out disciplinary procedures against a number of staff and the Government expects the necessary action to be taken.”
Earlier this week probation union NOPA revealed that the shooting of a 19-year-old gang member in London was connected with his straying on to rival turf while carrying out payback.
Similar turf based threats have occurred several times on Merseyside during the past 18 months, though no one has been shot at in the city, and have resulted in convicts only being allowed to do payback within their own post codes.
Mr Stafford added: “The majority of offenders subject to community payback complete their orders without any problems. For the minority who fail to comply or who behave inappropriately however, enforcement action is taken and offenders are returned to court. It is very rare however for a project not to be successfully completed.”
A statement issued by the probation service said 75% of people on community payback had not reoffended within two years compared to 29% of those serving jail time. THE ECHO