Five national organisations have welcomed the Government's proposed changes to community sentencing, saying that non-custodial sentences can be more effective at reducing reoffending than short spells in prison.

However, they add that non-custodial sentences must be geared to the evidence of how best to rehabilitate offenders with mental health conditions and those with learning disabilities.

Responding to the Ministry of Justice consultation paper 'Punishment and Reform: Effective Community Sentences', the Centre for Mental Health, Rethink Mental Illness, Prison Reform Trust, the Royal College of Nursing and Together for Mental Wellbeing said: 

"Community sentences including mental health, drug or alcohol treatment can offer many offenders a robust alternative to imprisonment that can improve their health, reduce their chances of offending again and cut the costs of crime and justice. 

"New flexibilities for using the mental health treatment requirement in particular should make it more effective for the many thousands of offenders who have mental health conditions and currently do notreceive any support for them. 

"We warmly welcome the Government's proposal that community sentences for people with mental health conditions need not always include a punitive element if this is not right in their case.

Similar safeguards should also be considered for offenders with learning disabilities so that no one is set up to fail in the reformed criminal justice system. 

"We need to develop a robustly evidence based approach with those on community sentences which manages risk by maximising engagement, supporting offenders in their recovery from mental health and other difficulties, offering relevant help such as support to gain real employment opportunities and helping offenders find positive ways out from crime."

The consultation document 'Punishment and Reform:Effective Community Sentences' can be viewed here: