NON-CUSTODIAL SENTENCES: What exactly is a community sentence? In simple terms, it means a court convicted you of a crime but the judge decided not to send you to prison.
In some cases, such as in Community Payback, the order means you must perform some unpaid work for a determined number of hours.
As a rule, the work would take place in your local community (e.g. clearing litter or repairing buildings).
UK courts can order community sentences for the offenders of crimes that include:
- Benefit fraud
- Physical assault
- Property damage
There are pros and cons with handing out community sentences. As a rule, it generally means that either:
- The court judge considers you to be less likely to commit further crimes by not going to prison.
- This is the first time that you committed a crime of this nature.
- There is an issue with a mental health condition and it affects your behaviour.
Note: The rules on community sentences (such as ‘community service’ or ‘community orders’) differ in Scotland.
Community Payback Rules
Community Payback provides an opportunity for local communities to get involved. They can suggest suitable areas for offenders to help rejuvenate as part of their Community Order.
Even though Community Payback benefits the community it is unpaid work. It includes a range of projects such as:
- Removing graffiti.
- Litter removal and other environmental improvements.
- Clearing dense undergrowth and wasteland.
- Repairing and redecorating public places and buildings (e.g. community centres).
A Community Payback supervisor will manage the programmes. As a rule, those who take part will work in their local area. Community Payback rules force you to wear a high visibility orange vest when you work.
As a rule, the seriousness of the crime committed would determine how many hours you work. But, Community Payback can be anything from 40 hours to 300 hours. In most cases, unemployed offenders would have to work three (3) or four (4) days each week.
Note: If you have a job they will arrange the hours you complete to be outside your normal working hours. This may mean working during the evenings or at weekends. If you are a resident, you can nominate a Community Payback project in your local area.
Programmes and Treatment
There is a range of different treatment or programmes handed out. The aim is to help tackle the problems that led to committing the crime in the first place. The treatments and programmes also focus on stopping offenders committing further crimes.
In some cases, the range of programmes and treatment courses could help with:
- Addictions (e.g. alcohol or drugs).
- A mental health condition.
- Acquiring new skills and getting qualifications.
There are several ways that any particular treatment or programme can involve an offender. Common examples include:
- Counselling sessions (with support from a medical professional).
- Drug testing.
- Certain types of ‘accredited programmes’ (e.g. anger management or behavioural courses).
- Mental health treatment with a doctor or psychologist.
- Improving your reading and writing.
- Help with a job application and learning interview skills.
- Meeting people affected by your offence (as part of a restorative justice programme).
Note: You must complete a treatment or programme. Failing to do so, or failing a drugs test, means you can sent back to court. If that happens your punishment may increase.
Community Sentences Rules: What You Can and Cannot Do
The court, and the ‘offender manager’ will determine what you can and cannot do during a community sentence. As a rule, the restrictions include:
- Adhering to a ‘curfew’ (being at a particular place at certain times).
- Attending appointments with an offender manager.
- Following orders not to go to certain places or specific areas (e.g. the home address of your victim).
- Following orders not to take part in certain types of activities (e.g. staying away from a bar or a public house).
- Following orders to live at a specified address (e.g. the home of a family member).
- Wearing an electronic monitoring tag to check that you stay in the place you should be.
Note: You must stick to the rules of a community sentence. Failing to do so means you can get a warning or get sent back to court. If that happens your punishment may increase.
Community Sentences for Young Offenders (under 18)
In the UK, community sentences for young offenders differ from those handed out to adults. A court can give out three (3) main types of community sentences:
- Referral orders: You get asked to agree a work programme to address your behaviour. It will also involve youth justice workers and a panel of people from your local community.
- Reparation orders: A chance for the offender to make amends for the harm caused by the crime. Often, it involves repairing any damage caused to the property of the victim.
- Youth Rehabilitation Order: A court decides what you have to do or what you must not do. This types of non-custodial sentence can last for up to three (3) years.
The court processes in the United Kingdom also allow them to issue a discharge. That means they decide that the experience of being arrested and attending court is sufficient punishment for the crime.
Youth Crime Prevention Programmes
A different section explains how youth crime prevention programmes work in Britain. Find out how young people end up on a programme and how mentoring can involve parents and families.
As part of a community sentence they may also order the wrongdoer to speak to the victim. That process provides an opportunity for culprits to:
- Listen to the victim’s side of the story.
- Make an apology to the victim. Apologies can be in writing or face-to-face (if the victim requests it).
Note: Breaking the rules of a community sentence means you could end up back in court. Anyone who is recently released from custody can get sent back to prison.