Jobless offenders will be made to work four days a week after ministers announced today that London will be the first part of the country to use a private company to supervise criminals on community sentences.
Under a pioneering deal, 15,000 criminals a year in the capital will be required to perform tasks such as picking up litter and removing graffiti under the direction of private staff rather than probation officers.
The move, announced by prisons minister Crispin Blunt, is intended to improve the rigour of community sentences in response to criticism that they are often too lax.
Mr Blunt said the decision to hire a private provider would save taxpayers £25 million and result in other improvements that would beef up “community payback” penalties.
As well as requiring unemployed offenders to work four full days a week, instead of a few hours as can happen now, those given community punishments will have to start within seven days of sentencing.
Mr Blunt promised “robust action” against any who might fail to turn up or misbehave instead of working, and said new efforts would be made to ensure that tasks benefited those in the area or street where the crime was committed.
He added: “Community payback is a sound principle, with offenders being punished making reparation through unpaid work. But it is not meeting its full potential and does not command the confidence of the public. This new provision is a game-changer, making the payback real.”
The awarding of the four-year contract to international service firm Serco today follows a bidding process in which several proposals from private providers were assessed. London Probation chief executive, Heather Munro, said she hoped the new contract would lead to more offenders “turning away from crime” and improve public safety.
Under existing community payback schemes, offenders given non-custodial penalties are required to do jobs such as clearing up parks, building flower boxes and other projects that benefit local communities.
They have to wear orange jackets which mark them out to the public. Critics claim offenders are not properly punished because the tasks are sometimes too easy.
More than 1.3 million hours were worked by offenders in London under the scheme last year.