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More than 650,000 outstanding community service hours in Scotland

There are concerns about the amount of outstanding community service that is yet to be completed by offenders in Scotland.

There is a total of 669,838 hours of unpaid work which has not yet been completed by offenders who have been assigned community service as part of their sentence. The figure amounts to around 76 years of unpaid work.

The data was obtained by the Scottish Conservatives who submitted Freedom of Information requests to 29 of the 32 local authorities within Scotland.

The party has accused SNP and Labour-run councils of letting offenders off the hook.

The Scottish government said that at the start of the pandemic there were 690,000 hours of uncompleted work and lockdown restrictions clearly affected the number of completed hours since that figure was recorded.  

In 2021, the Scottish government wrote off 262,153 hours of unpaid work due to the pressure on the system caused by the pandemic.

A spokesperson for the Scottish Government said: “The pandemic has been an unprecedented public health challenge. This was recognised by Parliament when last year it approved legislation to allow community orders to be varied where necessary, as well as regulations earlier this year to reduce unpaid work hours.

“This is to address the unavoidable build-up of unpaid work resulting from essential public health restrictions and the rationale for the regulations was clearly set out at the time. Orders imposed for domestic abuse, sexual offending and stalking were excluded.

“It is entirely to be expected that a certain number of hours of community service in the system are yet to be delivered.

The spokesperson added that community-based sentences "have helped contribute to record low reconviction rates in recent years."

“The justice system has continued to operate effectively despite the challenges of the pandemic and those on community orders will still serve the majority of their sentences.”

The FOIs also found that some of the tasks assigned to those convicted included making bird tables and building bee hotels.

According to Criminal Proceedings in Scotland statistics for 2019/20, eight criminals convicted of homicide, one convicted of rape and a further one convicted of attempted rape were issued Community Payback Orders.

Since 2011, Scotland has had a statutory presumption against short prison sentences. In 2019, this was extended to not only encompass sentences of three months’ imprisonment, but all those up to 12 months imprisonment.

Scottish Conservative justice secretary, Jamie Greene, said: “This is an absolutely shocking figure that is caused in part by the SNP’s obsession with emptying Scotland’s prisons and dishing out community sentences instead.

“It is bad enough that rapists and domestic abusers are being handed community sentences to begin with, but the fact that the equivalent of 76 years’ worth of unpaid work is outstanding will stun victims of crime.”

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