Community Sentencing

How do we punish someone who has committed a crime? Many forms of punishment have been trialled and tested throughout the ages, and a few have verged into horrific territories. The last execution for a crime happened as recently as 1964 in the UK, where Peter Anthony Allen and Gwynne Owen Evans were hanged for their crimes before the Human Rights Act abolished capital punishment in the UK.

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    In modern times, we tend to default to three forms of punishment for those who break the law: prisons, community sentencing, and restorative justice. All involve some form of deprivation of liberties and aim to reduce recidivism rates (re-offending). Community sentencing focuses more on society and giving back what the criminal has taken away. Let's explore community sentencing further.

    • First, we are going to provide a community sentence definition.
    • Then, we will delve into the different types of community sentences, exploring community sentence treatment requirements.
    • We will discuss the advantages and disadvantages of community sentences and how community sentences benefit both society and the criminals involved.

    Community Sentencing, thief climbing through a window to steal, StudySmarterCommunity sentences are typically handed out for less serious crimes, burglar vector created by storyset - www.freepik.com

    Community Sentence Definition

    Community sentencing differs fundamentally from a prison sentence. We can define community sentencing as:

    Community sentencing is the process of punishing criminals/offenders by having them contribute to the community through activities, usually unpaid.

    Typically, a judge will hand out a community sentence if the crime is less serious and prison is deemed unnecessary or not appropriate as a form of punishment. First-time offences may also warrant a community sentence instead of imprisonment. Or, if the offender is relatively young, they are more likely to be given a community sentencing as a form of warning.

    Prison comes with its own set of issues, namely the connections people can form and, some argue, the ethical problems with imprisoning a person.

    With a community sentence often comes a curfew - offenders must abide by times set out by the court or judge. If they don't, they risk returning to court and potentially earning a custodial sentence (prison time). They may also be required to attend meetings with supervisors, have restrictions on areas they can go to, and attend programmes depending on their crime. We will discuss the programmes and types of community sentences later.

    Crimes that may result in a community sentence include:

    • Theft
    • Property damage
    • Shop-lifting
    • Drink driving
    • Assault (depending on the severity)

    If the individual repeatedly carries out the behaviour despite receiving community sentences, another form of punishment will likely be used.

    Types of Community Sentences

    As crimes affect society, community sentencing aims to rectify the crime by having criminals give back to the community in some form. We can explore the various types of community sentences to see how offenders are punished. Usually, courts will consider if a person has other commitments, such as a job, and arrange community sentences around it.

    Types of community sentences include¹:

    • 40 to 300 hours of unpaid work
    • House arrest
    • Curfew requirements
    • Restrictions on where offenders can go
    • Cleaning up areas of the community
      • Removing graffiti
      • Picking up litter
      • Decorating buildings
    • Therapy programmes
      • Anger Management Therapy
      • Drug or alcohol abuse treatment

    Community Sentencing, sweep it under the carpet graffiti from Banksy, StudySmarterCommunity sentencing can include removing graffiti, Banksy, commons.wikimedia.org

    Community Sentences Benefits

    Community sentences have a few aims. Mainly, they intend to punish the offender whilst also giving back to the community. These types of sentences also aim to give some form of rehabilitation to the offender.

    As we mentioned above, treatment programmes include therapies that intend to help the perpetrators of crime and reduce the chances of reoffending (recidivism).

    Anger management therapies help with behavioural issues. Other therapies can also be provided as treatment forms, especially if mental health conditions impact areas of the offender's life that make it more likely they will re-offend.

    A meta-analysis by Henwood et al. (2015) investigated the effectiveness of using cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) in anger management to reduce the rates of male offenders reoffending.

    They found that CBT, when geared towards anger management for male offenders, effectively reduced recidivism rates. CBT was particularly effective in reducing violent reoffending rates.

    Community sentences may also include programmes that help criminals improve their life skills and job prospects.

    • If they struggle with certain aspects of their education, community sentences may require criminals to complete a certain amount of training.
    • They may also be provided with help for getting a job if they do not have one.

    As we can see, all the above aspects of community sentencing benefit both the offender and society. By improving job prospects for the offender, the likelihood of them committing crimes due to financial issues drops. If they are breaking the law because they struggle to control their anger or have mental health issues, these can be addressed with therapy and treatment programmes, reducing recidivism rates.

    Community Sentencing, a group of people working on cleaning up the earth illustration, StudySmarterCommunity sentencing impacts society and the criminals involved, volunteer vector created by pch.vector - www.freepik.com

    Advantages and Disadvantages of Community Sentences

    Whilst we have covered the benefits of using community sentences as a form of punishment, we haven't fully explored the advantages and disadvantages of community sentences and whether they genuinely affect recidivism rates.

    • An advantage of community sentencing is that it offers criminals the opportunity to redeem themselves for their crimes. Many see community sentencing as a second chance for those who have broken the law; rather than sending them straight to prison, they are offered the opportunity to give back and remain a part of society. Offenders are still punished, which offers the retribution aspect of punishment to those who have been wronged, but offenders also offer their time to the community to better it.
    • Another strength can be seen in how community sentences often benefit society through the services they provide. Cleaning up graffiti, decorating buildings for events, and picking up litter benefit the community. Community sentencing also offers additional help for those who need or want to improve their skills or need assistance finding a job.
    • A disadvantage of community sentencing is that the offender is still allowed to be in public with the community. They may threaten the community, as they have already wronged them by committing a crime in the first place. If they are allowed to remain outside prison and walk freely, how can we be sure they will not commit a crime again with their freedom? Are the public safe if someone proven to commit theft is still free to walk on the streets near their homes?
    • Another disadvantage can be seen in how those given a community sentence may not abide by the conditions set out for them. They do not always follow the curfew times they were given or turn up to court when they are asked to.
    • Community sentencing has a recidivism rate of around 34%, according to the Ministry of Justice³. Of the survey cohort, those who had been given a community order had a rate of 34% for re-offending within 12 months of beginning their sentence. This is quite high; therefore, community sentencing is not an ideal form of punishment when the goal is to reduce reoffending rates.
    • People also argue community sentences are too 'soft' on offenders and are not a harsh enough punishment for breaking the law. Humanitarians, however, argue prison is too cruel and inhumane, and community sentencing is a better punishment form.

    Community Sentencing - Key takeaways

    • Community sentencing is the process of punishing criminals/offenders by having them contribute to the community through activities, usually unpaid.
    • Typically, a judge will hand out a community sentence if the crime is less serious and prison is deemed unnecessary or not appropriate as a form of punishment. First-time offences may also receive community sentences.
    • Types of community sentences include 40 to 300 hours of unpaid work, cleaning up the community by removing graffiti or picking up litter, and therapy programmes such as anger management or drug and alcohol treatment therapies.
    • Advantages of community sentences include the opportunity for redemption and the benefits it provides to society through the work offenders complete.
    • Disadvantages of community sentences include issues with offenders still being out on the streets, offenders not abiding by their community sentence conditions, and high recidivism rates.

    References

    1. Government Digital Service. (2011, November 9). Community sentences. GOV.UK. https://www.gov.uk/community-sentences/community-payback. Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0.
    2. Henwood, K. S., Chou, S., & Browne, K. D. (2015). A systematic review and meta-analysis on the effectiveness of CBT informed anger management. Aggression and violent behavior, 25, 280-292.
    3. Wood, M., Cattell, J., Hales, G., Lord, C., Kenny, T., & Capes, T. (2015). Re‐Offending by Offenders on Community Orders.
    Frequently Asked Questions about Community Sentencing

    Are community sentences effective?

    Community sentence effectiveness depends on the goal of the punishment. Some argue community sentencing is not as effective as other forms of punishment in reducing recidivism rates. For offering offenders the opportunity to redeem themselves, others argue community sentences are effective. 

    What is the purpose of community sentencing? 

    The purpose of community sentencing is to punish criminals for their crimes by having them contribute to society and the community through activities. 

    Are community sentences a soft option for offenders? 

    Critics have argued that community sentence punishments are too soft on offenders compared to other punishment systems such as prison. 

    How are community sentences good for society? 

    Community sentences require offenders to give back to their community for their crimes through activities, usually unpaid. Cleaning up graffiti, decorating buildings for events, and picking up litter are all beneficial for the community involved.  

    What types of community sentences are there?

    Community sentences include:


    • 40 to 300 hours of unpaid work
    • House arrest
    • Curfews
    • Cleaning up graffiti, picking up litter
    • Undergoing therapy where appropriate (anger management therapy)
    • Undergoing treatment programmes where appropriate (alcohol and drugs)

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    Community sentences often include curfews, true or false?

    _____ management therapy can be given to those with behavioural issues in their community sentences.

    Henwood et al. (2015) found that CBT was _______ in reducing rates of recidivism.

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