COMMUNITY service groups are set to be given the recognition they deserve.
The hunt for the best community service project in West Lothian has been launched by Justice Secretary, Kenny MacAskill, as part of a drive to recognise the value of community payback across Scotland.
From cleaning up unsightly graffiti to helping the elderly or infirm redecorate their homes, local councils across the country are increasingly using unpaid work from low level offenders to benefit their communities.
As well as highlighting the benefits to communities, the awards will also recognise the often overlooked work of the local staff who supervise the projects and how community service can help turnaround the behaviour of offenders.
Residents in West Lothian can play their part by nominating a local community service project for the “Community Award” category.
Launching the awards, Kenny MacAskill said: “There is a lot of hard work being carried out across the country by supervisors and other staff and these awards will go some way to recognising that.
“The tough manual labour being carried out as payback by low level offenders can be of real benefit to communities as demonstrated by their work in clearing paths of snow and ice during the recent weather.
“Prison will always be the right place for serious and dangerous offenders, but for low level criminals on short sentences, the current system does nothing to stop reoffending. For many, prison is just a university of crime, a breeding ground for picking up worse habits.
“Evidence shows that three quarters of those released from short sentences go on to reoffend. In direct comparison, three out five people sentenced to community service do not go on to reoffend and that is three out of five communities which are safer because of that approach.
“Increased use of community service will help break this destructive cycle of reoffending. The awards are all about celebrating the best examples of community service projects happening around Scotland by making low level offenders pay back to the communities.”
There are five categories:
Community (nominated by local communities);
Overall Best Community Service project in Scotland.
Criminal justice community service teams across the country will nominate successful projects to demonstrate how they have helped to clean up local areas.
The judging panel is being chaired by broadcaster Lesley Riddoch who was involved in the Scottish Prisons Commission in 2007-2008 which examined Scotland’s use of prisons.
She is joined by representatives from Victim Support Scotland, an ex-offender from the Wise Group, a voice from the community, the Association of Social Work Directors, Age Concern Scotland and CoSLA.
West Lothian residents should contact their local Criminal Justice Community Service Team on 01506 280999 to find out how to make a nomination or visit www.scotland.gov.uk/csawards