A serious knowledge gap about the management of community order sentences has been uncovered by the National Audit Office (NAO).
Its report on the sentences, reinvigorated by the Criminal Justice Act 2003 to give courts a wide range of sentencing options, finds the National Offender Management Service (Noms) does not know the full cost of delivering community orders.
The National Probation Service is uncertain about how many community orders it can deliver, it adds.
And six per cent of the community order sentences examined by the NAO had not been completed, revoked or breached, suggesting some sentences are ending before all requirements are completed.
The NAO report does have some positive news, however. Early research suggests community orders are seeing a 3.6 per cent improvement in reconviction rates, but the report notes doubt remains about the effectiveness of some order requirements.
"As a matter of urgency, the Service should establish a mechanism to monitor and report the number of orders not completed in accordance with courts' wishes," NAO head Sir John Bourn said.
"There is some evidence that community orders can reduce the likelihood of reconviction, but I am concerned by gaps in the National Probation Service's knowledge about its management of these sentences."
Responding to the report, prisons minister David Hanson said he had commissioned a paper in December on the best way to collate information about those not completing their community order.
Mr Hanson said: "We have noted the contents of the report, have accepted all the recommendations, and actions are already underway to address all of these.
"The audit report noted that staff commitment to their challenging jobs is clear, they enforce sentences rigorously and there is evidence of positive outcomes achieved by Community sentences."