Boris Johnson promises ‘fluorescent-jacketed chain gangs’ so criminals can visibly pay their debt

Boris Johnson has promised more “fluorescent-jacketed chain gangs” so criminals can visibly pay their debt to society, leaving aides forced to clarify that offenders would not be literally shackled.

The Prime Minister said people should be able to identify those who have been sentenced to community service for anti-social behaviour carrying out their unpaid work cleaning up streets of litter and graffiti.

However, his use of “chain gangs” – which raised memories of the convict era in Australia and southern United States – led to a correction from government sources who pointed out it was a “turn of phrase”. “It’s not going to be literal chain gangs,” said one.

Under the plans, first revealed by The Telegraph in June, offenders in high-visibility vests are to be set to work on community clean-up projects to demonstrate to the public that justice is being done.

In a major revamp of community sentences, offenders convicted of theft, assaults and criminal damage will be required to clear litter-strewn roadside verges, scrub graffiti off buildings and tidy up parks, canals, waterways and other public spaces.

On Tuesday, on a visit to Surrey Police headquarters with Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, to launch their Beating Crime plan, the Prime Minister said the unpaid work schemes would also be targeted at those found guilty of anti-social behaviour.

Mr Johnson and Ms Patel watch a search exercise during a visit to Surrey Police headquarters in Guildford

Credit: Yui Mok/Reuters

Antisocial behaviour hit a seven-year high as the pandemic drove up fly-tipping, vandalism and threatening conduct. 

Pledging to tackle the rise through public shaming, Mr Johnson said: “Somebody’s antisocial behaviour may be treated as a minor crime but it could be deeply distressing to those who are victims.

“If you are guilty of antisocial behaviour and you are sentenced to unpaid work, as many people are, I don’t see any reason why you shouldn’t be out there in one of those fluorescent-jacketed chain gangs visibly paying your debt to society. So you are going to be seeing more of that as well.”

Offenders taking part in “community payback” schemes are already required to wear a hi-vis vest while carrying out the unpaid work, but Mr Johnson said “you are going to be seeing more of that”.

Case study: Commonwealth Games clean-up

He also defended proposals in the Beating Crime plan for wider use of Stop and Search as a “kind and loving” tactic amid claims that black and minority ethnic communities are disproportionately targeted under it.

The plan makes it easier for officers to use Section 60 powers to search people in a defined area during a specific time period when they expect serious violence. Officers can look for weapons before they can be used, or those used in a recent attack.

Offenders convicted of theft, assaults and criminal damage will be asked to scrub graffiti off buildings under the plans

Credit: Paul Grover

The Prime Minister said: “I think that giving the police the backing that they need in law to stop someone, to search them, to relieve them of a dangerous weapon – I don’t think that’s strong-arm tactics, I think that’s a kind and a loving thing to do.

“The people who often support Stop and Search most passionately are the parents of the kids who are likely themselves to be the victims of knife crime.”

The Government also announced on Tuesday that its new ADDER strategy to crackdown on drugs will be expanded to eight new areas including London, Liverpool, Bristol, Newcastle and Wakefield.

Police work with multiple agencies to target the gang chiefs while addicts who steal to fuel their habit are spared jail if they agree to treatment to come off drugs.

Dame Carol Black who led a review of drug misuse and treatment services has also been appointed as an independent advisor to drive forward progress in tackling drug misuse across society.

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