Uniforms-for-offenders move provokes outcry

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The Independent Online
The latest tough law-and-order initiative - to "label" offenders on community service by making them wear marked protective clothing - has been condemned as "humiliating and counterproductive".

Social workers and probation officers say the plans also contravene human rights legislation and European Union agreements guaranteeing an offender's self-respect, and may be challenged through the courts.

The scheme is being launched in Scotland as part of the Government's programme to toughen community service orders. Offenders are likely to receive more hours working on "physically demanding" work - preferably on environmental projects.

But Michael Forsyth, the Secretary of State for Scotland, and former prisons minister, says schemes north of the border should also be seen to be "visible and testing".

In a circular to the 32 local authorities in Scotland he calls for the setting up of more community-service schemes - all to be physically demanding and all to be marked out; he suggests that where vehicles and protective clothing are used, "community service" should be written on them.

But David Colvin, Scottish secretary of the British Association of Social Workers, (BASW) said yesterday: "We think this is offensive and degrading and ... research indicates it will be counterproductive."

BASW has taken legal advice and has written to local authorities in Scotland calling on them not to implement the scheme. The association points out that community service, when tailor-made for offenders, succeeds in diverting 70 per cent of offenders from crime. Hard-work only schemes of the type envisaged by the Government are only half as successful.

A Scottish Office spokesman yesterday denied the plans breached any laws or agreements or that they were degrading. "We simply want to mark out the community service [workers] - these are after all people who have committed offences," he said.

Harry Fletcher, assistant general secretary of the National Association of Probation Officers, said: "Once you start to introduce uniforms, not only do you label and degrade, you start to introduce points of conflict. This will be completely self-defeating and is only designed to please the Conservative right-wing."