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Scheme not paying debt to society

PUBLISHED: 18:16 23 October 2008 | UPDATED: 12:04 03 July 2010

The Comeunity meeting

The Comeunity meeting

Dominic Bareham

A SCHEME where convicted criminals recycle second hand bikes to send to Africa has been slammed because it does not repay their debt to the local community.

A SCHEME where convicted criminals recycle second hand bikes to send to Africa has been slammed because it does not repay their debt to the local community.

Time was when offenders were a regular sight in the Great Yarmouth borough, where they would help out in a variety of projects benefiting the community, such as gardening, painting village halls and delivering leaflets.

But now felons convicted of crimes such as theft, motoring offences and lesser violent offences are being asked to participate in a community service scheme run by the charity the Re-Cycle Project, whereby second hand bikes are collected and sent to Africa.

But a representative of one organisation which had used community service offenders to deal with projects said he was disappointed by the Africa project, run by the F1 Computer Services and Training at Market Gates shopping centre, because he believed the criminals were not repaying the damage they had done to society.

He said: “Make the people who have committed the offence go back into the area where it was committed and do reparation work as a punishment for what they have done in the first place. Sending people to Market Gates to repair pedal cycles does not benefit the community at all.”

He believed the project was a way for Norfolk Probation Service to reduce the costs involved with organising the unpaid community service by shunting criminals into the private sector.

Re-Cycle gives the bikes to African families so they can use them to collect water, food, go to school or even to use as an ambulance service. But as well as helping third world countries, another aim of the project is to benefit the community environmentally by recycling unwanted bikes and giving offenders practical skills they can use in their daily and working lives.

Portia Griffey, the probation service's unpaid work scheme manager, said: “This project is about taking care of the environment, helping others to have a better life as well as offering a chance for offenders to pay back for their crimes.

“This project gives offenders some practical skills that they can use in their home and work life. Evidence shows us offenders who gain skills and go on to get a job are much less likely to re-offend. That helps to make our community a safer place to live.”

In the Yarmouth area, community service offenders carried out 137,000 hours of unpaid work in 2007, or £785,000 of free labour for the community, based on the national minimum wage.

MORE than 20 South Yarmouth residents learned more about community service punishments at a special meeting this week.

Leanne Boast, spokeswoman for Norfolk Probation Service, was joined by Helen Yates, the community engagement officer with the Court Service, for the Comeunity meeting entitled Inside Justice on Tuesday.

Visitors were divided into groups to decide on the appropriate punishments for some real-life crimes and the types of offences where a community service order could be applied. Another aim of the meeting at St James' Church in Admiralty Road was to dispel the notion that community service orders were too soft on criminals compared to prison.

Ms Boast said the discipline required to serve an unpaid work order for between 40 and 300 hours was far more onerous than sitting around in prison. She added community service was also more effective then prison in reducing rates of reoffending.

The final part of the meeting involved the groups thinking up schemes that offenders could complete for their community service order, such as cleaning up public areas and cutting back trees.

Ms Boast said: “People do think that a community sentence is a soft option, but that is something that we are trying to change. We are trying to get people to understand that a community sentence is more onerous than they might believe. It has the double edge that it pays something back to the community.”

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