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Last Updated: Wednesday, 30 January 2008, 07:02 GMT
'Alternative to a life of crime'
Kenny MacAskill
Mr MacAskill said community sentences were not perfect
The Scottish Government has embarked on a drive to cut reoffending rates by using community sentences as an alternative to short jail terms.

Writing for the BBC Scotland news website, Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill explains how such a system could work.

I believe it's time for a radical approach to help tackle one of the biggest problems in our society - how to offer often damaged and damaging young men a path out of crime.

The Turnaround Project, in Irvine, targets young male offenders who are failing in other community-based programmes or who have had multiple short-term jail sentences.

A similar formula has been successfully piloted in Turning Point Scotland's 218 women's service in Glasgow, where a holistic, person-centred and needs-led approach is taken to help service users face up to their offending, its causes, and the impact their behaviour has on victims and communities.

We are also looking at other innovative ways of delivering services to a difficult to reach group, ensuring that men with drug and alcohol addictions can be dealt with more effectively. If we can begin to tackle the root causes of reoffending then we stand a better chance of cutting crime in our communities.

Of course showing these young men who have seemingly opted out of life that there is a more rewarding alternative to a life of crime will not be easy, but a crucial aspect of changing criminal behaviour is improving their training and employment prospects, building a bit of self-esteem, and getting them fit for life and work.

Revolving door

This is something we are determined to address in our action plan to revitalise community penalties but are already progressing through our support for initiatives such as the Turnaround Project.

It's clear we need to target the root causes of repeat offending and low level crime which blights communities up and down the country. A more high-profile police presence and cracking down on the availability of cheap drink to teenagers will begin to address this.

But giving young men who have lost their way another chance is also crucial if we are to develop a real culture of responsibility in this country.

I've said before that I believe community penalties can play an increasing part in our progressive penal policy. There is strong evidence to suggest that re-offending levels are much lower for those who carry out community penalties as opposed to short prison sentences.

It's obvious that young men who continue along the path of addiction and offending are likely to end up in the revolving door of short prison sentences - what we are trying to do is turn people's lives around and give them and the communities in which they live a fresh start.

Jail cell
Scotland has a record number of people serving jail sentences

No one is under the illusion that community penalties are the perfect solution, but I am fully committed to a system whereby punishment should include reparation whenever possible, providing some form of positive payback to the community they have damaged.

We are working hard to make revamped Community Service orders available in all levels of criminal court in Scotland, ensuring payback can be imposed in every case where it would be appropriate.

And for the first time community service will soon include an element of activity other than unpaid work such as debt awareness training and support to help move an offender into employment.

It's widely accepted that short prison sentences often fail to demonstrate to the offender that there is a more rewarding alternative to a life of crime.

As well as benefiting the local community, effective community penalties can help an offender address underlying problems, improve employment prospects and build a sense of routine and self-esteem. This can lead to a future which is free from offending - and that is what we all want.

Bed and board

I want our penal policy to include a range of appropriate punishments - prison for serious and dangerous criminals as well as tough community penalties for less serious offenders. By making the range of community penalties available to the courts as robust as possible we can help ensure they are used with confidence in all appropriate cases.

Of course our clear aim is to prevent and deter crimes. But those who offend must face the consequences of their actions.

Prison places should be for serious and dangerous offenders - with publicly-run new prisons the future norm. We will make sure that those offenders are properly managed throughout their sentence to reduce their risk to the public and stop them reoffending.

We believe less serious offenders currently cluttering our jails should be paying back their debts to society - not adding to society's bill for their bed and board.

Tough community punishments will protect the public, help offenders turn their lives around, and involve some pay back to communities they have harmed.

As a government we are positive rather than fatalistic about offending in Scotland. We can get the country off this conveyer belt, and I believe we can turn lives around through prevention, early intervention, and true rehabilitation.

But we will not be a soft touch. We expect violent, sexual, and serious and organised criminals to be punished and the public protected. Those who do offend will face the consequences of their actions - and prison will still be a major part of that.


SEE ALSO
'Radical' approach to reoffending
30 Jan 08 |  Scotland

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