Almost 10,000 criminals ‘work from home’ to complete sentences

·3 min read
Labour’s Steve Reed accused ministers of ‘letting criminals off and letting victims down’ - Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire
Labour’s Steve Reed accused ministers of ‘letting criminals off and letting victims down’ - Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

The number of burglars, thieves and muggers allowed to “work from home” to complete their sentences has more than doubled to nearly 10,000 in the past year.

Ministry of Justice (MoJ) figures show the number of offenders permitted to take part in independent working projects as part of their sentences soared through the Covid pandemic.

Typical jobs included offenders making personal protective equipment for care homes, hats and scarves for Ukrainian refugees and greeting cards at their homes, with profits going to charity.

In 2020-21, 3,680 offenders with community sentences were given an independent working project as part of their sentence. The following 12 months, to March 2022, saw this jump to 9,385 offenders, according to figures disclosed to Parliament.

Independent working projects are offered to criminals on probation to complete some of their hours from home. They were introduced in response to Covid restrictions and were not in use prior to April 2020.

Unpaid work is often attached to community sentences ordered by courts for less serious crimes, such as theft, shoplifting, some assaults and burglaries. Offenders have to do between 40 and 300 hours, depending on the severity of the crime.

Sentences are ‘not ideal’

Labour seized on the figures, with Steve Reed, the shadow justice secretary, saying: “It is absurd that ministers are still allowing criminals to do unpaid work from home as part of their sentence – they’re simply letting criminals off and letting victims down.”

The party will on Tuesday force a House of Commons vote on establishing community and victim payback boards to restore public trust in community sentences.

Mr Reed said: “If the Conservatives are serious about getting tough on anti-social behaviour then they will vote for Labour’s community and victim payback boards and restore public faith in community sentences.”

Last month, Kit Malthouse, the justice minister, admitted to MPs that the sentences were “not ideal” and said he wanted to phase out working from home for criminals with community sentences by the end of the summer.

Offenders can serve no more than 10 per cent of their unpaid work via independent working projects.

‘Innovative approaches’

One MoJ insider said: “All products created via independent working projects are for the benefit of prisons or local charities. Safeguards are in place to ensure that those on the scheme complete the project to a high standard, within a set time period.”

A report by the four chief inspectors of the criminal justice system found that, by the end of November last year, more than 13,000 criminals had not completed their allotted hours of unpaid work within 12 months of being sentenced.

The inspectors, who oversee the police, Crown Prosecution Service, prison and probation, said this had led to “innovative” approaches to ensure offenders with “specific needs” could still carry out their unpaid work.

“A group of community rehabilitation companies in the south of England, for example, developed an unpaid work ‘project in a box’, which could be sent to individuals who were shielding at home or could otherwise not attend external sites,” they said.