Dundee city council bosses are investigating after figures revealed more than three in 10 criminals handed community payback orders fail to complete them.
The number of criminals completing an order is in “long term decline”, according to a report to be presented to councillors on Wednesday afternoon.
The figures had been heading in the opposite direction. Dundee had been bucking the national trend and reporting a completion rate of 81% in 2017/18.
But the number has fallen away dramatically in the following two years. First to 69% in 2018/19 and to 68% in the latest financial year.
A Dundee City Council spokesman said: “The average number of completed CPOs in Dundee since they were introduced nine years ago is higher than the national average of 70% and in some years has been more than 80%.
“The figure of 68% therefore appears to be an anomaly. The audit will look at a number of factors to try to understand why there has been a decline.
“These will include the profile of a cohort of the people subject to a CPO in 2019/20, non-compliance and resultant enforcement action and the level of engagement to support people with compliance.
“A further report will be brought forward on the findings and how they can be used to inform future actions,” he added.
An alternative to prison
The Scottish Government has encouraged courts to use the orders as an alternative to short prison sentences.
Offenders completing payback projects in the city include those transforming a neglected allotment at West Law into a community garden, beach cleaning at Broughty Ferry and preparing food parcels.
Courts have issued CPOs to offenders in the last year for verbal abuse, attempting to break into homes and assault.
Conservative shadow justice secretary and North East MSP Liam Kerr said the Dundee figures were “troubling.”
“Victims and their families expect payback to mean something.
“Community payback orders are an opportunity for offenders to repay their debt to society.
“They are often used as a direct alternative to imprisonment.
“Since the SNP Government has effectively scrapped prison sentences of under a year, that will no doubt add to the number of offenders placed on CPOs.
“So to see incomplete orders chalked up to ‘long term decline’ is very troubling.
“The answer cannot be to write off hundreds of thousands of hours,” he added.
Councillors considered a report in November that said alternatives to prison sentences were helping to curb reoffending in the city.
Reconviction rate falling
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “Scotland’s evidence-based approach to penal reform and community-focused interventions has seen the reconviction rate fall to its lowest level since comparable records began, with less re-offending helping to keep crime down and communities safe.
“The successful completion rate for community payback orders in Scotland was 68% in 2018-19 and has generally been around 70% over the last seven years – consistently higher than the completion rates for the orders they replaced.
“Local authorities are responsible for delivering CPOs, and individuals will have cases reviewed in court if progress is not satisfactory,” she added.