The claim

“In every single one of the communities affected there will be community payback schemes, Riot Payback schemes where you will see people in visible orange clothing making up for the damage done, repairing and improving the neighbourhoods affected… I can also confirm today that there will be additional money provided to ensure that victims, if they want, can face and confront their offenders too.”
Nick Clegg, 16 August 2011

Cathy Newman checks it out

David Cameron has just told MPs he’s “on the case” trying to bring about a “rehabilitation revolution” – stopping people repeatedly committing crimes and clogging up the country’s prisons. But just how on the case is he and, indeed, his government?

In the aftermath of the summer riots, his deputy Nick Clegg made a bold pledge to flood every community damaged by the disturbances by “people in visible orange clothing” making amends.

Well, here at FactCheck we like to hold politicians to their promises, so three months on we thought we’d check what had happened to these so-called “community payback” schemes the deputy PM said would rehabilitate the rioters.

The analysis

A week after pictures of looters and arsonists running amok in Britain’s cities made headlines around the world, Mr Clegg made four policy announcements.

He would research into the causes of the riots, set up an independent communities and victims panel, launch “riot payback schemes” to make the culprits clean up the communities they vandalised, and pay for face-to-face encounters between the rioters and their victims.

Let’s look at those four promises one by one.

The Cabinet Office did indeed commission the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen) to interview rioters about why they got involved in the disturbances.

You can read the report here. NatCen’s Chief Executive Penny Young concluded: “It is clear from the findings that there is no simple explanation as to why young people got involved, but it is extremely beneficial in aiding our insights into what happened and exploring different motivational factors.”

Mr Clegg has also kept his promise to set up an Independent Riots Communities and Victims Panel, which will also look into the causes of the disturbances. The panel is due to publish an interim report later this month.

FactCheck asked Mr Clegg’s office how his plans to get offenders cleaning up the community and confronting their victims were developing.

We were under the impression that Mr Clegg was announcing a new “riot payback” scheme, with new money.

But after much delay, the Ministry of Justice conceded that apparently that’s not what he meant. (You can read the full transcript of his speech here and decide for yourself.)

Instead, it’s simply the case that the courts will still have the option to sentence people to up to 300 hours’ unpaid work under the existing Community Payback system run by probation officers.

So how much are rioters actually being made to pay back?

In fact, it seems only a tiny minority of people who have already been dealt with by the courts have been ordered to don the famous orange vests.

The precise number, according to London Probation Trust, is 15 in the capital. To put that in context, that’s 15 people out of 618 people who have been sentenced so far, according to the Met Police.

Of course, that number could rise, as there are about 1,200 people who have been charged over the riots in London and haven’t made it all the way to sentencing.

But all the indications are that very few will be seen out and about cleaning up the streets of Tottenham or Croydon if current trends continue – and whole swathes of people will not be eligible for community payback.

London Probation Trust told us that people ordered by the courts to wear an electronic tag and obey a curfew won’t automatically be referred to the Probation Service.

And any adult who gets a sentence of less than a year in prison won’t even be eligible either, even if judges suddenly wanted to start dishing out huge numbers of unpaid work orders.

Children could be eligible – technically – but it rarely happens in practice, and in any event, the latest stats suggest that three-quarters of those brought before the courts over the riots are adults.

What about “restorative justice”, the idea that criminals should hear first-hand from their victims in an effort to shame them into changing their ways?

In this case there was no ambiguity about what Mr Clegg announced: “There will be additional money provided.”

But the London Probation Trust told us that “there has been no extra funding to date for restorative justice” in response to the riots.

After a number of awkward phone calls, the Ministry of Justice were unable to confirm or deny whether any money has really been made available for this kind of work anywhere in the country.

Cathy Newman’s verdict

With only around two dozen people ordered to do unpaid community work in the capital, you’re highly unlikely to catch a glimpse of the people who wrecked your neighbourhood making amends. (In fact you’re probably more likely to get hit by the asteroid we’ve just recreated in the studio for tonight’s programme.)

That’s partly because public outrage about the riots meant more people were sentenced to short prison sentences, so they don’t qualify for the community payback scheme. But while some might like the idea of the culprits being put behind bars, the problem is that leaves the government’s promises of a “rehabilitation revolution” as remote as ever.

And as Nick Clegg himself warned in the summer, the risk then is that offenders leaving prison will once again “just be allowed to drift back into their old life… of worklessness and repeat crime”.

The analysis by Patrick Worrall