The judicial system, as it applies to anti-social behaviour, came under close scrutiny at last week’s meeting of the Central Ward Neighbourhood Panel, at which JP Paul Freegard was present.
Responding to councillor Roger Oakley’s statement that increasing numbers of vagrants were wandering the streets as homelessness increased, causing a general nuisance, and that the judicial system had been brought into disrepute, Mr Freegard said that decisions by magistrates were governed by statute and, therefore, their hands were tied.
Many convicted offenders are without means, so there is little point in fining them, and magistrates therefore have to determine whether an offence is serious enough to pass a community order sentence. The range of options open to magistrates was clearly restricted, though a breach of the conditions of a suspended sentence can lead to imprisonment.
With the number of magistrates having fallen from 30,000 in 2004 to 18,000, pressures on them have increased and Inspector Allan Lowe said going the Community Resolution route – which involves consulting with victims and ensuring offenders make reparation under a range of specified Community Remedy options – had proved effective in reducing repeat offending and the burden and expense placed on the criminal justice system.
Sophie Whitehouse, early help and wellbeing lead at Adur and Worthing Councils, said a pilot scheme based on an approach devised by MEAM (Making Every Adult Matter, a coalition of four national charities) and intensive keywork had proved successful in turning around the lives of five out of six challenging individuals and had won funding from the Department for Communities and Local Government via social impact bonds, whereby public-private partnerships reward social services which have achieved improved social outcomes that result in public sector savings.
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