Community service breaches 'rise' in Scotland

Image caption,
Ministers have placed an emphasis on non-custodial sentences over short jail terms

More criminals are flouting community service in Scotland, while the number of orders made has fallen, official figures have suggested.

There was a 3.5% increase in breach applications for community service orders in 2009-10, compared to 2008-09.

Potential breaches in probation orders, including ones requiring offenders to undertake unpaid work, rose by 7.4%.

Labour said the system was "on its knees", but ministers pointed out crime was at its lowest for 30 years.

A total of 6,429 community service orders were issued in 2009-10, compared to 6,437 the previous year, while the number of breach applications rose from 2,113 to 2,186, over the same period.

The number of probation orders, including unpaid work orders, fell from 9,179 to 8,838, while breach applications increased from 1,645 to 1,766.

The Scottish government said the number of successfully completed community service orders - 70% - was the highest level in almost a decade and "substantially more" than the 65% completion rate in 2008-9.

'Downward trend'

SNP ministers have embarked on a move away from short jail terms, saying they do nothing to stop re-offending, while tougher, non-custodial sentences - community payback orders - are due to come into force.

A government spokesman said: "It is clear Scotland is becoming safer, with recorded crime and homicide at its lowest rate for more than 30 years, and an additional 1,000 police officers on our streets since 2007.

"These statistics reflect that downward trend, with a drop across the board in the number of community sentences started during the last year."

Labour justice spokesman Richard Baker, said: "The community service system that Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill wants to extend to almost 7,000 more offenders is already on its knees.

"The SNP might be desperate to empty Scotland's prisons, but to suggest such a huge increase in the use of alternatives to custody at a time when we have an across-the-board reduction in their use beggars belief."

The statistics represent the number of "breach applications", not all of which result in a formal breach.