Cabinet Secretary for Justice Humza Yousaf visited an innovative project in Midlothian on Monday where a number of offenders have been carrying out unpaid work to create a community garden in a disused former bowling green.
The Unpaid Work team work with people who have committed an offence and are subject to a Community Payback Order (CPO). Together they take on a huge variety of small construction and maintenance projects every year across Midlothian.
So far they have helped schools and nurseries across the county, local third sector organisations and vulnerable groups. They have also worked to improve community spaces such as parks, walkways and train stations, by donating items such as bird boxes, planters and benches created out of recycled materials that would have otherwise ended up in landfill.
This work has led to the team being nominated for a VIBES 2018 Scottish Environmental Business Awards. The service will compete for the Green Team award that rewards organisations who have delivered environmental improvements.
This was Humza Yousaf’s first visit to see an example of unpaid work carried out by people subject to CPOs since he became Cabinet Secretary for Justice. He was joined on the visit by the Solicitor General Alison Di Rollo QC.
Humza Yousaf MSP said: “Community sentences are a vital part of Scotland’s justice system and critical to our vision of safer, stronger communities. Evidence shows that short prison sentences do little to rehabilitate.
“It’s also clear to see the positive difference community sentences can make, not only to the local community where the work is done, but also to those doing the work – challenging and supporting men and women to tackle underlying issues behind their behaviour.
“It is encouraging to see first-hand how CPO projects like this one in Midlothian can help break the cycle of re-offending, while ensuring people pay back for the damage their actions have caused. Around six million hours of unpaid work have been carried out since 2011, delivering many benefits to communities.”
Sharon Hill, development worker with the Mayfield and Easthouses Development Trust, co-ordinated the project. She said: “This project is bringing many benefits to the local community. The raised beds that the unpaid work team are building from recycled wood will be used by local people and lots of different groups for example schools, people in recovery and gardening groups to grow vegetables and to learn to cook healthy food as well as learn about the environmental impact.
“The work to improve the old pavilion building in the park internally will also benefit local people as they will gain facilities such as a new community café.”
Alison White, head of adult and social care said: “CPOs address the underlying causes of offending and aim on getting offenders to pay back to the community. They offer real opportunities for rehabilitation, they reduce re-offending and help make Scotland’s communities safer. Official National Statistics show that those given a community payback order are less likely to re-offend than those given a custodial sentence of twelve months or less.
“This project has been very well received and the team that the Cabinet Secretary met today has been recognised by them being nominated as finalists for the Green Team Award in the 2018 VIBES Scottish Environment Business Awards.”