Criminals are serving unpaid work sentences at home due to the coronavirus pandemic, a new report has revealed.
Thousands of convicts who had remaining hours of unpaid work when the lockdown began in March have had them written off and others who were due to start sentences were allowed to “work from home”, according to The Times newspaper.
The probation service made the decision to change procedures because a huge backlog of unpaid work cases had built up after they found it difficult to find placements during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Victim Support chief executive Diana Fawcett was concerned with the effect the cancelling the sentences would have on victims.
She said: “Offenders having their community sentence hours wiped off only serves to undermine victims’ confidence in the ability of the justice system to handle cases effectively and feel that justice is done.”
In total 6,000 offenders have had their sentences disrupted by the pandemic.
The Ministry of Justice confirmed thousands of others whose sentences had been interrupted in March would not have to complete them and it would be treated as “unpaid work equivalent of furlough”.
Officials hope this will prevent the court system from becoming swamped with cases.
But offeneders who have received unpaid work sentences since March will have to serve them in full.
A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: “Unpaid work is exempt from coronavirus restrictions and we have been working hard to return to normal in line with the latest public health advice and social distancing measures.”
Watch: Coronavirus cases and deaths in the UK
Around 700 low-risk offenders are currently part of the east of England’s Project in a Box scheme which allows working from home.
They’re making greeting cards for prisoners to send to loved ones and face coverings for care homes.
Private companies which run schemes like this have been asked to find jobs for convicts that will work with social distancing.
National chairwoman of the Magistrates Association Bev Higgs added: “When an offender is given a community sentence, it is important they are able to complete it in a timely fashion.
“In the current circumstances, this proposal for people to do unpaid work from home could make this possible.”
Offenders must complete unpaid work orders within a year.
Watch: What is long COVID?