Page last updated at 16:55 GMT, Monday, 27 October 2008

Offenders' jackets for visibility

Offenders' workshops
Work can involve making items or cleaning derelict areas

Offenders given community sentences could be dressed in high- visibility jackets to make their work more obvious according a north Wales MP.

The plans would also see the public get more involved in allocating projects.

Justice Minister David Hanson, MP for Delyn, said the UK government wanted to boost public confidence in community sentences as compared to prison terms.

He told the BBC's Eye on Wales programme people given community orders were less likely to re-offend.

Around 140,000 community sentences were given in Wales and England last year.

Mr Hanson said: "Visibility to me means confidence in the system.

"People need to know that individuals have been sentenced, are being punished, are putting something back into the community and are more likely not to re-offend."

Unpaid work is one of 12 options available to the courts when passing community sentences.

Liam Maidment with a rocking horse made by offenders
Offenders make toys for local schools at one project under Liam Maidment's supervision

The work, known as community payback, can include things like removing graffiti or cleaning derelict areas.

One offender, Claire, 26, from Cardiff, was sent to the Lewis Street workshops in the Canton area of the city for a public disorder offence.

She served her time there making play equipment for local schools, picnic benches for parks, even portable altars - called palkis - for the Sikh community.

But she was also learning basic skills which she has since built upon.

"I was scared. Didn't know what was going to happen to me," she told the programme.

"I didn't come at first, but then I knew I needed to get it out of the way.

This is the first time [offenders] have had to turn up somewhere at a time, stay the day, do the work
Liam Maidment, tutor

"If I hadn't of done this I don't know where I'd be today. The events could have got worse. Prison, maybe."

Government statistics suggest that around 60% of those sentenced to a short jail terms of under 12 months will re-offend within a year of their release from prison.

For those given a short community sentence that figure is around 40%.

Liam Maidment, a tutor for South Wales Probation Trust who oversees the work of offenders at the Lewis Street workshop, said the punishment was the person's time.

"If they are given 300 hours they have to do that time. A lot of the people here have never worked in their life," he said.

"This is the first time they have had to turn up somewhere at a time, stay the day, do the work. All of a sudden they are realising what work is."

Last year 55,000 unpaid work community sentences were completed, amounting to 6 million hours of unpaid work for the benefit of local communities.

John Munton is involved in the neighbourhood watch movement in Cardiff. He thinks the low profile of the work done is one reason why people might have a low opinion of community sentencing.

"They think it's a joke," he said. "They think that somebody will get a short little slap on the wrist and that's the end of it.

"They don't think that community sentencing sometimes fits the crime.

"Neighbourhood Watch co-ordinators think it's justice on the cheap because they can't see any results from it."

This year the UK government is spending 40 million to toughen up community sentences and explore ways of convincing the public that it is getting value for money.

Justice Minister David Hanson added: "What we're going to try and do now is to look at "badging" work that's been done on community payback.

"We're going to try and have local people involved in choosing some of those projects; and we want to ensure that we have visibility of the offender as well."

Eye on Wales is broadcast on BBC Radio Wales on Monday at 1830 GMT.

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