Magistrates are struggling to issue offenders with community programmes because of a severe funding crisis in the probation service, a survey has found.
The survey, by probation union Napo, of 35 of the 42 probation areas found that 80% were unable to attach community programmes to sentences because of major waiting lists or restricted course availability.
This meant that individuals were not accessing programmes which rehabilitate sex offenders, domestic abusers or substance misusers.
If an individual did get onto a domestic violence programme, a commonplace 12-month delay meant they often re-offended or the community order expired before starting or finishing the course.
In several areas, the survey found that community and internet sex offender programmes were suspended because of resource problems. Instead, sex offenders were sentenced to short prison sentences or community penalties without addressing the offending behaviour.
Magistrates also struggled to issue “unpaid work” programmes, formerly known as community service, because of long waiting lists or limited availability.
The Criminal Justice Act 2003 changed the law so that magistrates could impose one to three-year supervision orders to individuals with these specific requirements. However, Napo said the probation service was unable to meet its statutory responsibilities because of insufficient resources.
In October, the government announced it would cut the probation budget by at least £60m in 2008-9, with cuts of 5% over the coming three years.
Harry Fletcher, assistant general secretary of Napo, said: “There is extreme concern that there are now restrictions on the ability of sentencers to impose the sentences that are required in 80% of probation areas. It is untenable that the will of the courts is being undermined. There is an urgent need for efficient financial management and planning from the centre.”