LETTER : British success

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The Independent Online
From Mr Stephen Shaw

Sir: Helen Wilkinson (21 April) rightly describes community service by offenders as one of Britain's more successful exports. From modest beginnings as an experiment in six probation areas in 1973 it is now widely used not only in this country but in France, Germany, Holland, Italy, and Scandinavia.

This success is built on its appeal to all shades of penological thinking. It is punitive in that it bites into an offender's free time; positive in that it involves work of public benefit at little cost to the public purse; and reparative in that the offender is asked to make good the harm which he or she has caused. Perhaps uniquely amongst penal sanctions community service is accepted on all sides as a "good thing".

Indeed, successive surveys have shown considerable public support for sanctions which involve some form of reparation or restitution by the offender. All of which is in contrast to the Government's claim in its recent Green Paper Strengthening Punishment in the Community that community sentences "have failed to command the confidence of the public". It is regrettable that the Government should run down a British success story, community service, while talking up an American failure - boot camps.

Yours faithfully,


Director, Prison Reform Trust

London, EC1

21 April