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Liberal Democrats visit community justice projects in the North East

January 30, 2013 3:49 PM
Originally published by Scottish Liberal Democrats

Scottish Liberal Democrat justice spokesperson Alison McInnes MSP has visited community justice schemes across the North East to see first-hand how community-based sentences are being carried out.

The North East MSP was joined by Karen Clark, who chairs Aberdeenshire Council's social work and housing committee, and is Liberal Democrat councillor for Banchory and Deeside.

Instead of short-term prison sentences, many low level offenders are now given Community Payback Orders (CPOs). These enable the courts to compel offenders to undertake tasks including unpaid manual work in the community.

There are approximately 350 people undertaking CPOs at any time in Aberdeenshire, with community payback teams contributing 100 hours of unpaid work to their community every day.

The pair met offenders who were subject to unpaid work orders and their supervisors during visits to a workshop in Inverurie and Buchan Meadows Community Woodland on the outskirts of Peterhead.

They also spent time with young people who had been referred for 'Diversion from Prosecution', measures aimed at drawing minor offenders away from the criminal justice and court system and helping them address the causes of their behaviour. They are given advice and support in relation to problems associated with their offending activities. They may be required to complete unpaid work. If the programme is successfully completed, then prosecution is waived.

Following the visit, Ms McInnes said:

"Community-based sentences are key to reducing reoffending and alleviating the pressure on our overcrowded prisons. Prison simply does not work for many low level offenders. All too often it signals the start of a long relationship with the criminal justice system.

"That is why I welcomed the opportunity to see first-hand how these sentences are being implemented in the North East. It was helpful to visit the projects, listen to the experiences of some of those required to undertake unpaid work and the staff who supervise them.

"From helping clear up the recent floods in Stonehaven and creating gardens in Inverurie to building outdoor classrooms and planting trees near Peterhead, CPOs mean that offenders can start to repay their communities for the damage that they have caused.

"Learning new skills and making a positive contribution to society can also give them an opportunity to overcome barriers that otherwise may lead to their reoffending, making our communities safer."

Cllr Clark added: "Meeting the offenders and speaking directly with their mentors does give a valuable insight into the benefit of community payback projects.

"In Aberdeenshire 36,500 hours of unpaid work was completed last year by the service across a variety of projects. We're always keen to hear about possible projects the criminal justice team can carry out in our communities. It's a winning situation giving people practical and rewarding skills while also providing a service locally."