Page last updated at 12:15 GMT, Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Victims of crime 'not put first'

Offender wearing a vest
Louise Casey said the scheme would have to be "driven very, very hard"

The Probation Service has an "institutional reluctance to put the public first", the government's neighbourhood crime adviser has said.

Louise Casey said probation officers had "a kind of institutional desire to put offenders first, over and over".

She pointed to opposition in the service to criminals wearing high-visibility clothing as a punishment.

The National Association of Probation Officers (Napo) described Ms Casey's comments as "nonsense".

'No brainer'

Probation officers have warned the clothing could increase the risk of offenders becoming targets for attacks.

Criminals started wearing the jackets while carrying out community punishments on 1 December.

Ms Casey said the level of opposition to the plan in the Probation Service meant it would have to be "driven very, very hard".

I want people in the criminal justice system to believe that it is not their justice system. It is the public's justice system
Louise Casey
Home Office adviser

"But this is just the beginning to opening up the criminal justice system," she added.

"The other thing that will meet huge resistance is sharing information about what happens to criminals."

However, Napo assistant general secretary Harry Fletcher rejected the idea that the service was just on the side of offenders.

He said the job of probation officers was to prevent reoffending, which benefitted the public.

"What Louise Casey says is nonsense. The Probation Service has a duty to offenders and a duty to victims," he said.

Ms Casey said it was a "no brainer" to make criminals wear the jackets, which have the words "Community Payback" on the back.

The Home Office adviser said the scheme showed the public that criminals who were not sent to prison were being punished.

Soft option

She also supported the idea of people being informed about the outcome of crimes in their area by leaflets put through letterboxes.

"So much crime is not brought to justice because the public do not bother or have no faith in the system or don't want to go into court to give evidence," she said.

"If we do not get some of these things right, that is what will continue."

She added: "I want people in the criminal justice system to believe that it is not their justice system. It is the public's justice system."

The government hopes the high-visibility uniforms will increase confidence in community-based punishments, which are seen by some people as a soft option compared with prison.

But the National Association of Probation Officers and the Probation Chiefs Association have voiced concerns about the scheme.

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