UK convicts to wear vests during community service

LONDON (AP) -- It's a modern day scarlet letter only it's bright orange.

Starting next week, convicts sentenced to community service across Britain will have to wear orange vests with the words "Community Payback" on them.

The vests are designed to make it clear to the public that the workers clearing derelict land or building walkways in their neighborhood are criminals rather than ordinary workers.

But the union that represents probation officers and social workers warned Friday that the program is potentially dangerous.

"It is not constructive to demean people like this," said Mike McClelland, national officer for NAPO, a union and lobby group for probation officers. "It makes people doing community service vulnerable to attack and detracts from the constructive aspects of the scheme."

There are currently around 35,000 offenders nationally working on the government's Community Payback program, where convicted criminals are ordered to work on projects like clearing land or scrubbing graffiti off walls.

Community service tends to be given to people who are convicted of lesser crimes and not believed to pose an ongoing threat to the public.

Supermodel Naomi Campbell was ordered to carry out 200 hours of community service this year after pleading guilty to kicking, spitting and swearing at airline officials aboard a place at Heathrow this year.

People who are sentenced to community service currently wear protective clothing like high visibility jackets, but for health and safety reasons rather than to brand them as criminals.

The government's crime adviser, Louise Casey, suggested vests would make the public more confident that the criminal justice system was punishing offenders and that community service is not a soft option.

In a report published in June, Casey said work done by people convicted of community service should be "more visible and demanding, not something any member of the public would choose to do themselves."

A report sent out to probation offices from the government says the vests, which cost 2.12 pounds ($3.24) each, should be used in all cases where the offenders work in areas visible to the general public.

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