An Outline of the Community Service Order

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109528 Formerly known as a Community Service Order introduced by the Criminal Justice Act 1972, a community punishment order

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[1] is now regulated by the Powers of Criminal Courts Act of 2000. The aims of a community punishment order is solely to reform the offender whilst he/she remains in the community, allow an opportunity to reflect on the criminal act for which s/he has been sentenced, the order is a method of rehabilitation preventing the offender from falling into a life of criminal activity and is also reparative to the public (particularly the victim).

[2] The order, defined by s.163 of the PCC (2000) requires the convicted offender to spend time on unpaid work for the benefit of the community for a period between 40 to 240 hours. The offender is supervised whilst undertaking this work by a member of the youth offending team, a social worker, or a member of the probation service. As outlined in s46 of the PCC(S) Act (2000), the minimum age for a young offender to be sentenced to a community punishment order is 16. It is an alternative to a custodial sentence for the juvenile who having committed the offence, and found guilty of it, would otherwise be sent to a young offender’s institution. For those under the age of 18, the Youth Justice Board would be responsible for locating secure accommodation for the committed juvenile.

The other criteria for this sentence is that the court is satisfied by pre-sentence reports of the offender’s ability and suitability to carry out this form of punishment and also – there is somewhere suitable and a type of unpaid work available for the punishment to be carried out.

[3] The Youth Justice Board was created by the Government in the provisions set out in the Crime and Disorder Act of 1998. With no specific body responsible in dealing with juvenile crime, the Government set out to create a Youth Justice Board responsible for both the operation and the provision of youth justice services.

[4] The Board’s primary aim as set out in s.37(1) of the CDA was to “..prevent offending by children and young persons…”

[5] When sentencing a young offender, consideration of the young person’s welfare needs (as outlined in s44 of the Children and Young Person’s Act 1933) will be paramount but other considerations such as protecting the public from further harm, reforming the offender from committing further acts of crime and allowing the public (including the victim) to have confidence in the criminal justice system will also be taken into account.

[6] The youth court will not recommend a community punishment order unless it can be certain that this is the right path for the young offender to reintegrate himself into the community and is convinced that a custodial sentence would only seek to destroy this reintegration. The court must also be sure that the young offender will be able to carry out the punishment of unpaid work, for it is not an easy option as commonly quoted by young people and the public itself. According to Cavadino and Dignan in 1997,

[7] community punishment orders were used as an aid to reducing the prison population, and as discussed later, the very scope of community punishment has been reflected as being “insufficiently punitive”.

[8] However, once the courts have sentenced the young person to a community punishment order, it is then up to the agencies responsible for the supervision of the young offender to be careful in ensuring that no conflicts of timing are made in respect of the person’s religious beliefs or any work/schooling schedule.

[9] A convicted teenager may well view his sentence in this respect as being of relative ease to him, considering heavy demands of unpaid “work” will not interfere with his “hectic” schedule”. Indeed, Davies et al in their 1996 text on Criminal Justice illustrated the contempt some magistrates demonstrated on the very “punishment” they had passed sentence on.[10] “…It’s not structured enough…they come and go as they please…” “They tend to lose credibility when we have breach hearings…you hear how the administrator has bent over backwards in accepting excuses (in not completing the work allocated to them)…” This view counters the very aim of community punishment orders, in that they are supposed to have a “just deserts” tag attached to them when they are handed down, or to simplify, are meant to punish the offender for his criminal activity. However a young offender is to be punished for his criminal behaviour, the primary aim of the agencies involved has always been the welfare of that very individual, on account of his “child” status. Society and the courts in modern times have recognised that the influences and actions a child participates in before adulthood will usually impress upon him through adult life, which is why the youth courts have to be careful in how they dispense justice upon a convicted young offender in relation to a community service sentence. It is the requirement of the Youth Justice Board and the associated Young Offender’s Teams to prevent acts of crime before a child is immersed so deeply in criminal activity or an offence committed is so serious that it is only a matter of time before a youth court hearing is inevitable.

Prosecution is viewed as a “last resort” leaving many victims in despair as the youth continues to offend depending on his attitude to the “softly, softly” method. This rehabilitative approach has often been seen as treating offenders with “kid gloves” or condoning the anti-social behaviour of young offenders.

Indeed, there are many steps to encounter before a juvenile may find himself in front of a youth court, including programmes such as mentoring, a parenting order where the offender’s parents attend classes on how to improve their disciplinary skills and activities for young people (which have often been reported in the media as rewarding bad behaviour with free outings and holidays). According to the youth justice board[11], these preventative activities are to re-educate the young offender, to re-engage teenagers in their local community in regards to education, employment or training and to encourage them in developing their own role as an individual with understanding to their actions and behaviour. It is recognised in a survey conducted by MORI[12] that young offenders, who are low achievers academically or have been sidelined from the compulsory education system, are the group most at risk in their likelihood to commit crime. When conducting their survey, MORI discovered that peer pressure and committing crime because it was “fun” or because they were “bored” were among the greatest reasons why the offender decided in their actions to illicit criminal activity.[13] So what are the alternatives available if the preventative actions should fail, and the offender before a youth court is deemed unsuitable for a community punishment order? Close in range to a punishment order is community rehabilitation and punishment orders whereby the offender is required to undertake the following:

  1. to be of good behaviour and lead an industrious life…
  2. to inform the supervisor of changes in address, or employment; and
  3. to comply with the supervisor’s orders for visits and in reporting to the officer when required.

The above as outlined in Emmins on Criminal Procedure[14], are standard requirements of the offender, and are available for a period between six months to three years. It must be noted that these orders are only for “mature” teenagers over the age of 16 years, where it is hoped they “appreciate” the opportunity being given them as a chance of rehabilitation from a life of crime (with the possibility of a custodial sentence). In all essence though, this order is to be seen as a deterrent with a means of protecting the public from further harm by the convicted youth. Other community based punishments are available for the court’s consideration, depending on the offender’s suitability, and age, though they are not dependant on the element of unpaid work for the duration of the sentence. We will consider each of the following in turn. A curfew order is a requirement for the offender to remain in a specified place for a number of hours as agreed by the court. Usually in the form of an “electronic tag” to ensure the offender complies, this order is regulated by the PCC (S) Act 2000, s.37 and is available in youth courts. It is often viewed as a restriction of liberty, regulating movements of the offender, though this type of punishment is not solely used for an offence which is normally punishable by imprisonment.

The curfew order has a maximum duration of six months, and is extendable for a monitoring period of between two to twelve hours daily (half this if the offender is aged under 16). Theoretically, according to Stone in his sentencing text, this could add up to a punishment total of 2,184 hours, 9.1 times the length of a community punishment order.[15] Primarily used in youth courts, attendance centre orders has attracted little controversy since their inclusion as a community based punishment, originally under the Criminal Justice Act, 1991.[16] It is not extensively used, as it has a limited age range, and little is required of the offender apart from attending a centre during his/her free leisure time, presumably to prevent them from being “bored” and being pushed into further acts of criminal activity by their own mindset or peer pressure. The order can be made for a period from twelve up to a maximum of thirty-six hours for a youth between the ages of 16-20 years. Supervision orders introduced by the Children and Young Persons Act, 1969 is a flexible method of “punishment” and has a wider scope for pertaining to the complex needs of young offenders. Stone[17] argues that it is an appropriate sentence when the individual on the receiving end has complex needs and requires in-depth assessment. This may be more useful when there are “reasons” behind the criminal act, and the individual has behavioural problems that is not only limited to being subject to influence by their peers, or because they were “inactive and bored”. However, the negative aspect to this sentence is that an individual cannot be changed “overnight” when the supervision order is for a limited period of duration.

Also, several agency initiatives, such as social workers, police and probation officers need to collaborate with each other to ensure the aims of the order are being met. With stretched resources; this is less likely to happen.

Under s69(3) of the PCC(S)A 2000, a sentence can be passed in the form of an Action Plan, if the court is satisfied that this would be the appropriate means to rehabilitate and prevent the commission of further criminal acts by him/her. This is only available to offenders under the age of 18, and cannot be used in conjunction with any other community based sentence. Available for a limited period up to three months, the juvenile attends meetings twice a week under the National Standards for Youth Justice guidelines. Under s 69(1)(b) of the 2000 Act, the offender is placed under the supervision of an appropriate officer, and must comply with that officer’s requests in order for the plan to be implemented to a successful conclusion.

The action plan order has an element not attached to any other community based orders in that the offender must comply with the court’s/officer’s demands that he/she stay away from a named area and arrangements for his/her education must also be satisfied, presumably that the offender maintains a good attendance record and behaves accordingly to that effect. Also the court has an option to fix a review hearing to check on the progress of the juvenile concerned. This shows that the courts may not always be convinced of the action plan’s objectives if its officials require reassurance that the plan has rehabilitated the offender.[18] Fines are a means of monetary punishment to remind the offender that he has done wrong (R v Olliver, 1989)[19], though the negative aspect of this is that fines usually have to be “chased up” through the court bailiffs if they are not paid, and if the offender is under 18, then the duty falls to the parent to pay, where in reality this is punishing the “innocent” party who is not in the dock for the crime in the first place. With this wide variety of punishments available to the youth courts, their influence is likely to be affected by the pre-sentence report that is mandatory under the CJA 1991. Easton and Piper in their text, Sentencing and Punishment discovered that much depends on the structure and quality of the report being made to the presiding judge. Indeed, their view is that 40% of reports in high-custody areas were poor or unsatisfactory. So, what does this mean for the young offender who is in the dock of a youth court, found guilty of a crime and about to be sentenced? The MORI report shows that in the recent year of 2004, a high number of young people committed another crime after being caught by the police for their previous offence.[20] When questioned by MORI what their attitude were to committing crime, 40% of those who took part in the survey stated their primary concern was their parent’s reaction, closely followed by the “fear” of being arrested.[21] With community punishments often being viewed as “soft” and something to boast about between their friends as if it is a badge of respect that they have “earned”, or that they “got off lightly”, there is a real danger that instead of being seen as a second chance to turn their lives round, the community sentences carry little weight in the criminal justice system for juvenile offenders.

Easton and Piper[22] point out that in the future, the Action Plan order will seek to encompass all the bewildering array of community punishments, will run for a period of 1-12 months with several interventions from a “menu” which will include the options of mentoring, fines and reparation.[23] The way forward, according to the Home Office is the concentration on supervision orders, with the added combination of a reparation order as laid down in the Crime and Disorder Act, 1998. Implementing this in 2001, the Youth Justice Board developed an Intense Supervision and Surveillance Programme (ISSP), utilising electronic means and human resources to deal with any non-compliance issues. The effect of the order is to attain some form of educational achievements and for the offender to gain an understanding and remorse for his actions.[24] Easton and Piper illustrate the dangers of increasing restrictive regimes on young offenders where reliability is on the resources to implement these programmes. Without the resources, the reduction of juvenile crime remains to be seen. Not only that, but without a structured life and a lack of self-control due to parental irresponsibility,[25] juvenile crime may continue to be a common occurrence in today’s society. Bibliography Books Cavadino P and Dignan J, 1997, The Penal System: An Introduction, 2nd edn.

London: Sage Davies, Croall and Tyrer, 1998, Criminal Justice, 2nd edn, Pearson Ed: Essex Easton, S and Piper, C, 2005, Sentencing and Punishment, Oxford: OUP Hale et al, 2005, Criminology, Oxford: OUP Padfield, N, 2000, Text and Materials on the Criminal Justice Process, 2nd edn, London: Butterworths Sprack, J, 2002, Emmins on Criminal Procedure, 9th edn, Oxford: OUP Stone, N, 2001, A companion guide to sentencing, GB: Shaw and Sons Websites 1


[1] Renamed to current name by: s41 of the CJCSA 2000

[2] pg.156, Stone.N, 2001, A companion guide to sentencing Part Two, GB: Shaw & Sons

[3] p.390-391, Sprack, J, 2002, Emmins on Criminal Procedure, 9th edn, Oxford: OUP

[4] s44(1) and (5)(a) Crime and Disorder Act 1998


[6] Pg.353, Padfield N, 2000, Text and Materials on the Criminal Justice Process, 2nd edn. London: Butterworths

[7] Cavadino P and Dignan J, 1997, The Penal System: An Introduction, 2nd edn. London: Sage

ce, London: Sage

[8] pg. 287, Davies, Croall and Tyrer, 1998, Criminal Justice, 2nd edn, Pearson Ed: Essex

[9] as outlined in PCC(S) 2000, s.47(2) [10] pg. 94-5, Davies et al, 1996, Criminal Justice, London: Sage [11] [12] [13] pg.29, Circumstances of offending, ibid [14] pg. 389, Sprack, J, 2002, Emmins on Criminal Procedure, OUP: Oxford [15] pg.171, Stone, N, 2001, A companion guide to sentencing : Part Two, GB: Shaw and Sons [16] Now regulated by the Powers of Criminal Courts (Sentencing) Act 2000, ss60-62 [17] 177, ibid [18] pg.186, Stone, N, 2001, A companion guide to sentencing : Part Two, GB: Shaw and Sons [19] R v Olliver (1989) 11 Cr App R(S) 10 [20]Table 3.4, pg.43, 21Table 3.7,pg.46, 22 paras 7 and 17, 2003, Home Office, Youth Justice – Next Steps, London: Home Office [21]23 pg.254, Easton, S and Piper, C, 2005, Sentencing and Punishment, Oxford: OUP [22]24 ibid [23] [24] [25] Hale et al, 2005, Criminology, Oxford: OUP

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An outline of the Community Service Order. (2017, Jun 26). Retrieved December 7, 2022 , from

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