As of the 3rd of December 2012, a new Act came into force. Don’t switch off just yet, this change in legislation is significant as it affects day to day working with offenders in England and Wales, especially if you are working in the Criminal Justice System (CJS) and are a Probation Officer or training to be one.
This Act is called the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO). In addition to changes in the legal aid system, this Act brings in many new changes to the way offenders are sentenced and managed in the community. In this article, some of the key changes will be covered so that practitioners can stay on top of their game.
Generally, the Act aims to clarify and consolidate previous legislation and is said to make it ‘easier’ for practitioners. Here are some cherry picked points which are of most significance to Probation Officers.
Firstly, this Act has introduced the premise that all community based Orders need to have some element of punishment. No longer can the Court just consider rehabilitation for the offender. For example, a stand-alone direction by the Court to see a Probation Officer (Supervision Requirement) to address the offender’s issues has gone. If the Court wants an intervention such as this, they will need to also impose a punishment as well. So for example, a Supervision Requirement will now need to be accompanied by something like a tag (Curfew Requirement or Unpaid Work). Practitioners have already voiced their discontent – as the implementation of these rules goes against much of the research undertaken in this area about desistance from crime.
The new Act has also introduced what I will call “when it is finished, it’s finished rule” for Community Orders. This means that when a Requirement is completed (such as Unpaid Work) subject to nothing else outstanding, then the Order is finished. Let us assume that someone has been sentenced to a Community Order of 12 months, and 50 hours of Unpaid Work; if this is finished, and presuming there is no other requirement such as supervision outstanding, then the whole Order is finished. The same applies to all other Requirements.
Moving swiftly on, the next change covers foreign travel, and a new Requirement has been introduced. This is a 13th one (lucky for some!) but not for those on whom it is imposed. This Requirement can prohibit foreign travel for the offender, making such travel a potential breach of a Community based Order imposed by the Court. This has always been the case for people released on licence from prison.
Finally, the Courts will no longer be able to impose an indeterminate sentence for Public Protection (IPP) or an Extended Sentence for Public Protection (EPP). Instead, offenders convicted of serious violent or sexual offences and where the Court deems them to be ‘dangerous’ (I don’t intend to go into this in detail here), a new Extended Determinate Sentence (EDS) is now available. An offender who might previously have received an IPP might now be given an EDS or a Life sentence. Release on Licence of those on an EDS will depend on the sentence length; sentences in excess of 10 years will require input from the Parole Board. Following release, offenders will be subject to extended periods of supervision.
The author, Jonathan Hussey, has worked extensively in the Criminal Justice System, and has specialized in leading roles within the Probation Service and Youth Offending Services. He is the author of the book: Reoffending: A practitioner’s guide to working with offenders and offending behaviour in the Criminal Justice System.