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Community Service was just as tough as Community Payback.

26, January 2013

I was Tweeted an alert to this article described as “misleading” by a Chief Executive of one of the thirty five Probation Trusts in England and Wales.

Here is my response:-

Misleading is a vast understatement. I was involved with community service back to its earliest days in Liverpool, later in Essex and then in London up to 2003 and have since kept abreast of the renamed Community Payback nonsense.


Community Service has always done hard physical work and in earlier days a lot of hard emotional work as well.


I well remember the positive change that came about with a young Essex man (and many, many others) who had a bad start in life got into harem scarem offences in the early 80’s – I can’t remember the details but he was stunned and relieved when he got a Community Service Sentence in the small country town where he lived and anxious when he discovered his task was to help transport (wheelchair push) OAPS to a lunch club, serve the lunches etc. and engage with the OAPS. He found it tough but after a while was completely accepted & gradually he smartened up his appearance, and even talked about enjoying the company of the old folk by the time he completed his sentence.


As far as I know (criminal records are notoriously unreliable) he had no further convictions.


I continue to live in the circulation area of the local newspaper area, where he lived – he has a rather unusual name. A couple of times in recent years I have seen letters in the press from him, on the last occasion complaining about dangerous driving and poor traffic management in and around his town. Yet some folk think Community work must look tough and the workers must be visible.


Then there was the Railway reclamation society, also in Essex, where teams of CS workers went every weekend and did very heavy work, all year round, in all but the absolute worst weathers.


The job went on for years and many got benefit, but as far as the visiting public was concerned those CS workers were just a part of the unpaid crew who got the railway back up and running again after decades of closure.


Public Probation has run the scheme since its inception in 1973 initially as a direct alternative to prison. Millions of Pounds have been saved – in costs of imprisonment, and much good work has been done, in a vast variety of settings.


I remain grateful to Baroness Wootton – the originator of CS who undertook a report on behalf of Wilson’s Government, the same Government that introduced parole initially with very strict conditions but slackened by successive governments to cut costs.


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