Straw's uniform shame for offenders

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The Independent Online

By Sophie Goodchild, Home Affairs Correspondent

By Sophie Goodchild, Home Affairs Correspondent

17 October 1999

OFFENDERS ORDERED to work in the community will have to wear a special uniform, Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, has decided, in a move to show that he is tough on even relatively minor criminals.

Community service will in future be known as "criminal work", a step considered by the Conservatives.

The changes, part of a "re-branding" of work-based punishments, come in an effort to persuade the public that they are not a soft option.

In summer, offenders will wear T-shirts bearing a "Criminal Work" logo. In the winter, they will have donkey jackets with the same lettering.

The proposals, to be formally announced in the Queen's Speech this month, are part of a broader Home Office drive against crime. Tony Blair announced at Labour's Bournemouth conference that a Criminal Justice Bill would be at the heart of the Government's legislative programme.

The latest statistics show that there are nearly 58,000 people serving sentences which involve an element of community service. Some well-known people have been on the scheme, including the footballer Eric Cantona.

The Labour MP Fiona Jones was ordered to do community service after being found guilty of electoral irregularities but her conviction was overturned and she did not have to do any.

Some leading figures in the Probation Service fear that the use of uniforms could lead to attacks on offenders, who will be marked out as pariahs.

Harry Fletcher, deputy general secretary of the National Association of Probation Officers, said there was no evidence that shaming offenders by making them wear uniforms would reduce crime.

In other schemes that identify criminals, such as tagging, there had been incidents where people had taken justice into their own hands, he said.

"There's no proof that retribution impacts on crime. The implication is that this will lead to public hostility and even violence from within the community. With tagging there have been cases where people have been beaten up."

Under Mr Straw's plans, criminals who complete non-custodial sentences will go through graduation ceremonies. In the US, "boot camps" give awards for the completion of tasks such as tending church yards or painting fences.

Mr Straw has been critical of the Probation Service recently, believing it fails to take action on offenders who miss interviews, and has announced plans to cut the number of local probation services from 55 to 42.

The service will now be headed by a national director and have chief probation officers paid for and appointed by the Home Office.