HC Deb 12 March 2001 vol 364 cc491-2W
30. Mr. Pickthall

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what measures he is taking to strengthen public confidence in non-custodial sentences. [151732]

Mr. Boateng

It is vital that both the public and sentencers have confidence in non-custodial penalties. The following measures have been taken to achieve this aimwe have made it clear to the Probation Service that it must raise its performance oil enforcement of community sentences. Independent enforcement audits on cases commenced early and late in 1999 showed that the correct enforcement of breach procedures for community sentences improved significantly from 44 per cent. to 62 per cent. of cases being dealt with properly. This is welcome but there is still a long way to go. A third national audit is being conducted to keep up the pressure for further improvement; in April 2000, new national standards were introduced that tightened the standards for enforcement of community sentences so that offenders are returned to court no later than after second unacceptable failure to comply rather than, as previously, the third such failure; new enforcement measures contained in section 53 of the Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000 provide that where the court finds an Afender in breach of his community order and takes the view that he is unlikely to go on successfully to complete the order ii must impose a custodial penalty, other than in exceptional circumstances; we are developing it range of high-quality offending behaviour programmes in the community, and we have set up a new process of accreditation, involving an independent panel of experts to ensure that only the most effective and cost-effective, evidence-based programmes are rolled out across the country; from April, responsibility for the execution of warrants, including fine warrants, will pass from the police to magistrates courts. This will provide a clearer focus than the present arrangements and deliver better enforcement; we are conducting a study under the crime reduction programme to identify best practice for fine enforcement. At present, various strategies are being piloted in a number of courts, and the results will be assessed later this year; from April, measures in the Access to Justice Act 1999 will be implemented enabling, under certain circumstances, the Department of Social Security to provide the court with up to date address details of fine defaulters. This should reduce the number of fines that are currently written off; more generally, the new national standards require local probation areas to ensure that they have a strategy to inform both sentencers and the general public about their work and the services they perform; and last year we made a grant to an organisation called Payback in connection with the promotion of community sentences.

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