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Sentences in the Community

May 2014

Full Report

Press release

Community sentences have a particularly important role in ensuring social justice. They are the most commonly used sentence for serious crimes and have the potential to be the most powerful tool for addressing the root causes of offending behaviour. By carrying out sentences in the community, rather than prison, it is far easier and cheaper to provide support that addresses underlying issues, such as drug and alcohol addiction.

Yet despite community sentences’ potential, they are proving largely ineffective at changing lives. A third of offenders are caught reoffending within a year of being sentenced, committing around 150,000 further crimes. Instead of stopping offending in its tracks, community sentences have become a stepping stone on the path to prison. This was highlighted by shocking Ministry of Justice figures which showed that 37,019 (35 per cent) of those sentenced to custody in 2012 had received at least five previous community sentences.

It is not difficult to see why they are failing. Offenders are not held properly to account for complying with their sentence, and our main weapon against drug addiction – the drug rehabilitation requirement (DRR) – is more likely to sanction people for whether they attend meetings than whether they come off drugs. Despite clear evidence of the importance of a positive family influence in persuading offenders to leave a life of crime, families are too often shut out from the rehabilitative process.

Our proposals come at a time of significant change to the way offenders are managed in the community. The probation service has drifted from providing innovative, bespoke support for offenders to a risk-adverse, box-ticking approach. Up to three-quarters of their time is spent on work not directly engaging with offenders.8 In response the Coalition Government is implementing the Transforming Rehabilitation (TR) Programme to tackle bureaucracy and introduce innovation to the delivery of probation services.

This paper seeks to contribute towards the success of these reforms by setting out the current challenges facing community sentences, and presenting ideas on how to make them more effectively at reducing reoffending. The research was informed by a large number of interviews with magistrates and judges, probation staff, private and voluntary organisations delivering community sentences, and offenders themselves. The CSJ also held a roundtable of expert witnesses in late 2013, analysed official data and conducted a number of Freedom of Information requests.

Community sentences need to improve if they are to have any meaningful impact on reoffending rates. The reforms set out in this paper are a roadmap for how we can make community sentences a powerful crime-fighting tool that stops offending behaviour in its tracks and keeps communities safe.


This great report brings to light a shocking truth: that offenders given drug rehabilitation requirements are not getting the help they need to get clean. If we are to have a hope of addressing the fact that over half of those given drug rehabilitation reoffend within a year, the Government needs to implement the reforms the CSJ propose.
Noreen Oliver MBE, Bac O'Connor


Catch22 fully support the Centre for Social Justice’s drive to get families more involved in offenders’ rehabilitation. Our experience affirms the importance of engaging both service users and their families and doing so in partnership to make a difference in better protecting communities from crime.
Chris Wright, Catch22


Swift, certain and fair sanctions are the most promising justice innovation of recent times. CSJs drive to implement this approach in the UK will reduce crime without filling up prisons. 
Keith Humphreys, Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University School of Medicine