In future, all young offenders aged from 10 to 17 who are given a community sentence order for crimes such as stealing cars, theft, or serious vandalism, will have to do an element of 'reparation' to society, under Home Office plans. This is expected to include cleaning graffiti, painting run-down areas and picking up litter.
The proposals by Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, were fiercely condemned by magistrates and probation officers as impractical and unworkable. Rosemary Thomson, chairman for the Magistrates Association, said: 'It is extremely sad that Mr Howard has gone back to knee-jerk reaction without consulting anyone who actually knows about 10-year-olds. We are talking about punishing very young children. Mr Howard seems to use words without thinking what they mean or if they address the issue.'
Currently, only offenders aged 16 and above are given community service orders. Offenders aged 10 to 15 can only be given supervision orders which are carried out by social service departments. In future all young offenders can receive community service orders. Under the proposals elements of community work will be a compulsory part of the sentence. At the moment reparation is up to the discretion of the magistrates.
Mr Howard, in an interview with the Daily Telegraph, said that the public wanted 'tough and challenging penalties for persistent young offenders, not visits to safari parks that are the holiday of a lifetime'.
The Government has expressed its concern that community service orders are considered a 'soft option' and signalled that it intends to bring in a greater element of 'punishment'.
Mary Honeyball, general secretary of the Association of Chief Officers of Probation, said: 'The new suggestion that children as young as 10 can usefully do reparative work is very questionable. No other country does this and I would be interested to see what evidence there is on its usefulness.' Twenty years of experience suggested the new proposals would fail, she said.
Mr Howard also outlined plans for a ban on 'rehabilitation' projects, which saw persistent young offenders sent on overseas trips or leisure centre visits. The Government will issue a consultation paper later this month setting out new rules for community service work aimed at ensuring 'tough and meaningful' sentences. 'People should not be seen to be rewarded for committing crimes,' he said. 'There has been too much of a tendency to look at these things almost exclusively from the point of view of the offender without giving sufficient weight to the community.'
Mr Howard added that social services departments which persisted in sending offenders on trips which looked like holidays would face action from the District Auditor.