Gordon Brown has called for community sentences to be “tough, visible and effective” something Leicester City Council has been working on.
Local people on community orders are making environmental improvements to areas, arranged through co-operation between the council and Leicestershire Probation Service .
“The Ministry of Justice wanted community sentencing to be more high profile, so local communities could see people were putting something back,” says Ian Stapleton, an area housing manager for Leicester.
Under the arrangement, the council’s housing officers visit local estates and invite residents to suggest places in their community that need maintenance. The probation service then arranges for teams of supervised offenders to work on the projects usually activities such as clearing paths and cutting hedges.
“All the work is additional to our ground maintenance contracts,” says Mr Stapleton. “We consulted with unions first to make sure it was not putting anyone out of work.”
The scheme has been operating for 18 months and has been so successful that this year the number of days Leicester contracted was increased from 200 to 240 a year.
Five other probation areas are also piloting the scheme.
“The council wants us to do even more, but we can’t because of other commitments,” says Glynis Middleton, who manages Leicestershire Probation Service’s unpaid work programme.
Sometimes the offenders work alongside community volunteers, which provides them with additional stimulation and satisfaction, says Mr Stapleton, who adds that some say they have learned skills they will use in their own gardens.
“Everyone’s a winner,” he concludes. “Those on probation like doing the work and find it fulfilling. The council are happy that residents benefit and residents see people having to put something back into the community.”