£500m alert over shake-up in community sentences

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The Justice Secretary’s plans to toughen up community sentences by making some form of punishment compulsory will raise costs by up to £500m, a union has claimed.

Chris Grayling wants to make punishments, such as fines, community payback schemes and tagging, a key part of all community sentences.

But the plans will raise costs, remove judges’ discretion and tie the hands of the probation service, taking the focus away from rehabilitation as a means to cut high reoffending rates, the probation union Napo warned.

Even the Ministry of Justice’s (MoJ) impact assessment warned the move could increase reoffending if the new punitive element forces out rehabilitation requirements.

Napo estimates the changes to the Crime and Courts Bill, which will be debated tomorrow in the Lords, will cost an extra £500,000 each year. This includes an extra £240m to triple tagging contracts, at least £100m to extend the satellite tracking of offenders, and an extra £80m on unpaid work schemes, the union claimed.

Napo predicted the number of offenders breaching the terms of their order would increase from 25 to 35 per cent, meaning a further 10,000 offenders will be jailed for an average of about two months, adding £80m a year to prisons costs.

The union’s assistant general secretary, Harry Fletcher, said the moves would make sentencing “mechanistic” and run against the “principal purpose of probation, which is rehabilitation”. “This will lead to tens of thousands of extra curfew tags at massive cost and will result in a high failure rate and inevitably custody as a consequence,” he said.

“The new order will raise costs by up to £500m and will see reoffending rates and use of custody sharply increase.”

The MoJ assessment warned “adding punitive requirements to community sentences without substituting for other requirements would increase the operating costs of community sentences”. But it added it would be “premature to provide accurate estimates of the cost”.

Justice Minister Jeremy Wright said: “We totally reject the claims made by NAPO. Reoffending has been shamefully high for too long and the public expect better.”