Payback scheme is justice in high-visibility jackets

They might as well wear a placard which reads: “Kick me – I done it”.

That was my friend’s view of the Government’s new Community Payback initiative where courts order convicted criminals wearing fluorescent jackets to carry out work on projects voted for by local residents rather than going to prison.

My friend is well-informed and intelligent. She just happens to be wrong about Community Payback.

In her mind the scheme is akin to placing miscreants in the stocks and throwing rotten fruit and vegetables at them.

She sees the initiative as humiliating and degrading for the offenders and is concerned about the effect it may have on their self-esteem.

Perhaps she would rather they lazed around in the clink all day, watching television or playing pool at the expense of taxpayers instead of giving something back to local communities.

To me, however, given the perennial societal problems of littering, fly-tipping and graffiti, it seems plain daft to have grown men sitting around all day when they could be doing something useful like cleaning up our streets and public open spaces.

One of the offenders involved in a recent scheme to clean up land in Goldenhill told The Sentinel’s reporter he believed it would deter him from breaking the law again.

Another said he was learning skills that would help him to get a job. Given the choice between working outside or languishing at Her Majesty’s pleasure then perhaps they were bound to trot out such platitudes.

However, whether or not these young men believe Community Payback’s own PR – and I hope they do – their comments are spot on.

Surely it is far better that they work hard for the benefit of others, and seek a sense of pride and achievement through that work, than have them wasting away behind bars.

Will they be embarrassed by having to wear fluorescent jackets with the words Community Payback on the rear which clearly identify them as offenders?

I doubt it. I doubt they are the kind of people who are easily embarrassed.

And even if they are, so what? Isn’t that part of the deterrent?

It is high time we stopped mollycoddling criminals and shifted the emphasis back on to their victims and the communities affected by their crimes.

If, like me, you read with dismay some of the sentences handed out by our courts, then you will doubtless think Community Payback is long overdue.

Justice must be seen to be done in order that the community as a whole feels the system is protecting them and so that the offenders themselves are forced to think about the consequences of their actions.

The bleeding-heart liberals who run some of our public services devote so much time, effort and resources to helping criminals – giving them life skills and trying to steer them away from the slippery slope – that they seem to have forgotten the rights of the victims and the need for punishment.

This isn’t about humiliating people or stigmatising them.

It’s about reinforcing the boundaries of acceptable behaviour and demonstrating to the public that some criminals do get their comeuppance.

Community Payback should be viewed as a last chance saloon. If those involved re-offend then by all means we should send them down.

My family home in Sneyd Green was broken in to when I was five-years-old.

My parents and I returned home one evening to discover a bloke rifling through the cupboards. Mum was terrified and dragged me round to a neighbour’s house to ring the police (we didn’t have a telephone).

In the meantime, dad stood in the doorway and blocked the burglar’s escape until the boys in blue arrived.

We were never told what happened to the man they led away – which seems to me something of an injustice to a family whose home had been violated.

I certainly didn’t see him down the Forest Park cleaning up the rubbish or dredging the lake for abandoned supermarket trolleys.

More’s the pity.

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