New figures revealing more than 100,000 absences from community service over the past five years are an “insult to victims”, the Scottish Conservatives have insisted.
The party hit out after data released under Freedom of Information laws showed a total of 104,862 absences from community payback orders were recorded over the period 2018-19 to 2022-23.
The party’s justice spokesman Jamie Greene said the level of absences being recorded by councils was “scandalous and unacceptable”.
However, with only 15 out of Scotland’s 32 councils responding, the true total will be higher.
Of the remaining councils, one failed to respond while 16 local authorities said they did not collect data on absences from community service, despite Conservatives noting that guidance states all absences should be recorded on an offender’s case file.
Greene branded the number of offenders missing during community sentences as “yet another example of the SNP’s soft-touch justice approach in action”.
When First Minister Humza Yousaf was justice secretary the Scottish Government had reduced the amount of unpaid work in most community payback orders by 35% in a bid to ease backlogs that had built up during the Coivd pandemic, with only sentences imposed for domestic abuse, sexual offences and stalking remaining unchanged.
Greene hit out at cases where offenders were “not bothering to turn up at all” for community sentences, as he called on new Justice Secretary Angela Constance to “finally put victims first”.
Speaking about the level of absences, he said: “These figures are scandalous and unacceptable and yet they do not even tell half the story when it comes to absences among those meant to be carrying out community sentences.
“It is yet another example of the SNP’s soft-touch justice approach in action.
“Not only have SNP ministers been content to write off hundreds of thousands of hours of payback orders, now an eye-watering level of absenteeism among criminals has been exposed.”
Greene continued: “It makes a mockery of the justice system when criminals are effectively being given the green light to be absent from community sentences, which, in many cases, are considered lenient in the first place.
“These absences are an insult to victims.
“They expect this work to be carried out, yet in so many cases offenders are not bothering to turn up at all.
“Community sentencing is failing victims at every turn on the SNP’s watch.
“The new SNP Justice Secretary must finally put victims first, as well as ensuring our cash-strapped councils are given every resource they need to tackle absenteeism.
“Questions must also be asked as to why half of Scotland’s local authorities are not recording this data when government guidance clearly states they should be.
“Their failure to do so means that the true number of absences will be significantly higher.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The reconviction rate for individuals given community payback orders is consistently lower than for those given short sentences.
“(Some) 79% of orders which finished during 2021–2022 did not involve any breach applications during the lifetime of the order.
“Crime, including violence, has fallen under this government and our focus remains on prevention, effective community interventions and rehabilitation, both in communities and a custody setting.
“We are also strengthening how justice and wider public services support victims, with £48m being provided to victims’ organisations as part of our commitment to putting victims at the heart of the justice system.
“In addition we will invest a total of £134m in community justice services, which includes the continuation of an additional investment of £15m from 2022-23 to support recovery efforts, bolster capacity, and strengthen alternatives to remand.”
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