Criminals to plant 4,000 trees in London this winter as Government seeks to ease pressure on prisons

Criminals are set to plant more than 4,000 trees in London this winter in a bid to help clear up the capital’s air.

Those who receive short sentences after being convicted of offences such as drink driving, shoplifting, domestic abuse, knife possession and supplying drugs are planting trees instead of serving time in prisons.

This week lawbreakers donned high-vis jackets emblazoned with “Community Payback” while they worked in west London.

Speaking from a project in Ealing, head of unpaid work in London Jo White told the Standard it was “making a real difference” to offenders and the community.

"It's definitely a really robust alternative to custody," she said.

"Given the problems with the prison population at the moment, community payback and unpaid work requirement is the alternative.

"It's a visible project in the community. It's demanding, it's hard work. And it's a visible punishment that you complete in your local community.

"If somebody isn't given community payback or an unpaid work requirement, then they could receive a short custodial sentence where they wouldn't receive any intervention.

"They'd spend a lot of their days locked in a cell and but here they can be signposted to other organisations and interventions, and often people are completing this requirement alongside other requirements that are more rehabilitative."

Justice Secretary Alex Chalk earlier this year announced that fewer “low-level” offenders would be sent to jail and instead be given community service.

It came after crown court judges said they had been ordered to delay sentencing hearings because prison populations had reached bursting point.

Mr Chalk said: “Criminals who damage our communities should be forced to repair them as part of their punishment.

"Community Payback is helping the public see offenders atoning for their crimes by making our towns and cities greener and cleaner.”

The offending rate for people who spend fewer than twelve months in prison is over 50 per cent.

But the MoJ argued it is 34 percent for those given a community order.

The partnership with Trees for Cities has seen hundreds of offenders plant trees at sites in London since in 2021.

Some 7,000 trees have been planted over the past three winters helping to remove air pollution, the MoJ said.

Judges and magistrates hand down more than 50,000 sentences which involve unpaid work each year and the Probation Service is rolling out more community projects with a focus on outdoor work to help neighbourhoods impacted by anti-social behaviour.

Offenders will also be able to better access the drug rehab, mental healthcare and other support that properly address the causes of their crimes as part of the Community Payback project.