Villages in the Mearns are set to benefit from Community Payback Orders as offenders undertake a range of unpaid work to clean up the streets. Payback Orders were introduced in Scotland in 2011 as a non-custodial alternative to imprisonment and are widely used across the country as part of larger initiatives to improve communities. Mearns councillor Leigh Wilson has been working with Aberdeenshire Council to ensure that Mearns settlements receive similar benefits.
Councillor Wilson commented on the discussions held so far: “I asked if Community Payback Orders can be used in our Mearns villages and the suggestions I made have been taken on board. Laurencekirk has a lot of exciting projects developing at the moment – the Memorial Park regeneration and the Mearns Healthy Living Network, for example – and if offenders can help support these groups’ endeavours then it is a good use of public time. Bervie already has an established group dedicated to showcasing the beauty of the Burgh and offenders have so far helped clean the seafront and re-paint the Cutty Sark pedestal. Those who have been involved in the project have contributed well and that is exactly the kind of ethos I want to see replicated across the Mearns. I want to ensure that offenders aren’t just given jobs for the sake of completing their sentences; I want to know that the community is seeing real results, and so far that has been the case.”
It was announced earlier this year that since the inception of the scheme in 2012, more than six million hours of unpaid work have been completed by offenders across Scotland, helping bring the reconviction rate to an 18 year low. Most payback orders include a requirement for unpaid work and around half are conducted under supervision. In 2010 the Scottish Government legislated for a presumption against prison sentences for less than three months and there are moves to extend this to a year.
Mr Wilson continued, “If people do wrong they should pay something back to the community – I think most people would agree with that. With Payback Orders, communities can see justice being done and, most importantly, real improvements in terms of local cleanliness and general aesthetics. Snow clearing operations are also a possibility so, particularly in smaller residential areas where the council struggles to reach, this may be worth exploring. I am mindful, though, of making sure payback orders are used on the basis of need as opposed to compensating for a loss of a council service but, on the whole, the whole idea of restorative justice is a good one as long as justice is seen to be done.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “People released from a custodial sentence of 12 months or less are reconvicted almost twice as often as those sentenced by the courts to a Community Payback Order. Our firm focus on more robust community sentencing, including the introduction of CPOs, has helped bring Scotland’s reconviction rates to an 18 year low, contributing to the large fall in crime over the last decade to a 43 year low.”