Chris Grayling challenged over new community orders
The justice minister will be quizzed by the justice committee today about why he ignored the Ministry of Justice's own research findings when drawing up the sentences for the new community orders.
, the secretary of state for justice, has been summoned by Elfyn Llwyd, a member of the justice select committee, to defend his decision to draw up the orders compelling judges to sentence offenders to one or more punishments, comprising GPS surveillance, electronic tagging, unpaid work or participation in short offender-focused programmes.
The new sentences ignore the Ministry of Justice's own impact assessment report, seen by the Guardian, that found tagging and compulsory unpaid work do not reduce reoffending. Instead, the assessment concluded, the way to reduce reoffending is by addressing offender needs, not through punishment.
Despite that, the government's new clause to the crime and courts bill, which has already been tabled, states that the new sentences must have a punitive core. "Where the court makes a community order, the court must include in the order at least one requirement imposed for the purpose of punishment," .
Llwyd said: "I will be forcefully putting this tomorrow to Chris Grayling. My concern is that this is an empty gesture - empty, because what he's suggesting will not work, and he's been told that by his own advisers. There is a disjoint somewhere. What he's trumpeting is purely headlines.
"One hopes," Llwyd added, "that this is not going to typify the attitude of this secretary of state otherwise we will be going nowhere, fast."
The MoJ's own impact assessment, published by the Ministry of Justice, says of tagging that: 'The UK evidence points towards a … neutral impact on reoffending".
The budget for tagging offenders on community service is currently £120m. Under the new sentences, it can be waived only in exceptional circumstances. According to the shadow minister for defence, Lord Rosser, it is highly unlikely that this will apply to more than 5% of all cases, meaning costs will rise to over £360m.
Another of the penalties imposed by the new community sentence - compulsory, unpaid work - is also rejected by the MoJ's report. "There is no evidence that unpaid work has a positive impact on reoffending," it states.
But justice minister Jeremy Wright said: "Reoffending has been shamefully high for too long and the public expect better - that is why we are making community sentences tougher, and transforming the way we deliver rehabilitation.
"We are changing the law so every community sentence will include punishment and are bringing in state of the art tagging to protect the public from crime. Only a system that both properly punishes and effectively rehabilitates offenders will break the cycle of reoffending. We want to work with probation professionals as we develop our plans in the coming months."
Lord Woolf, the former lord chief justice of England and Wales, said that the new sentences could undermine judges as they try to construct individualised community sentences to help each offender. "It would be very unhelpful to force judges to impose unnecessary, punitive requirements on offenders," he said. "And would therefore have an adverse consequence on judges' attempts to help rehabilitate offenders.
"Judges don't need to be compelled to do what they think is sensible to help someone from reoffending," he added. "It's objectionable to impose this mandatory, compulsory requirement on judges."
The questioning of Grayling comes before a government debate next week in which the new community orders, which will replace most existing sentences, will be discussed in the House of Lords.
Those who have said they will oppose the new sentence include Woolf, Rosser, the crossbench peer and former chief inspector of prisons, Lord David Ramsbotham, the head of the central London youth bench, Lord Ponsonby and the Labour Lord, Kenneth Morgan.
In contrast to the new, punitive community sentences, the MoJ's impact assessment points to other factors as key to rehabilitation. These include a "constructive and consistent relationship between offender and offender manager", mentoring and help to tackle drug and alcohol addictions.
The assessment even warns against "delivering top-end community orders [which] may cause a number of primarily rehabilitative requirements to be substituted for primarily punitive ones".
It goes on to say that "adding punitive requirements to community sentences without substituting for other requirements would increase the operating cost of community sentences". Intensive community punishments, such as tagging, it concludes, carry "a risk that reoffending rates may be higher than other community orders if some of the rehabilitative requirements are replaced".
Harry Fletcher, assistant general secretary of the probation staff union Napo, said: "The coalition is embarking on a justice strategy which will sharply increase costs and have no impact on reoffending. Its own documentation states that what does work is support and rehabilitation. It warns that punitive requirements such as tagging will cancel out positive rehabilitative ones. This is quite extraordinary as the government has consistently said it will invest in 'what works' and it is not interested in who delivers the work so long as it is effective".
He added: "The government strategy of tagging virtually everybody on a community sentence, despite the fact that it doesn't reduce reoffending, flies in the face of its own evidence. There is a real fear that public protection will be compromised and there will be more, not less, victims."