A total of 926 offenders did not get work under way for more than two months after the sentence was passed last year – more than double the number from just two years ago.
Of the 15,102 CPOs with unpaid work handed out by courts in Scotland in 2015/16, a further 759 did not start for more than a month.
Some criminals are waiting more than a year for their work placements to begin, with the longest delay an incredible 511 days – or 17 months.
There were also 1,972 CPOs last year where the offender simply did not turn up for work or was unable to comply for some other reason.
The figures were unearthed by the Scottish Conservatives, who said they made the court system look weak and damaged rehabilitation prospects.
Community payback orders are likely to take on more importance as the SNP government seeks to impose a presumption against prison sentences of less than 12 months.
Shadow justice secretary Liam Kerr said: “There’s clearly a problem with the system when hundreds of criminals are waiting months for their community payback to begin. These unacceptable delays create two serious problems.
“Criminals already show up to court knowing they stand a good chance of getting off lightly, and having months between the sentence being handed down and CPOs beginning will do nothing to change that mindset.
“And these waits will do nothing to help rehabilitation.
“Many offenders whose sentence is a CPO have challenging and difficult lives. Significant delays such as this can break the connection in the mind between the crime and the punishment.
“It would be far better for these offenders to receive the punishment and get the CPO completed as soon as possible, allowing them to move on from their criminal life. The SNP wants to empty jails across the country, and that will mean more of these CPOs will be used. But as it stands, the system is already unable to cope, and ministers must explain how they intend to address that.”
According to the official guidance, issued in 2010 before the launch of the SNP’s flagship scheme, work placement should commence as soon as possible after the CPO has been imposed, ideally on the same working day or within 24 hours.
It adds: “For CPOs to have credibility with the public and, in particular, the victims of the offence and their supporters, who may be in court to hear sentence being passed, it is important that justice be seen to be carried out swiftly.”
The Scottish Government blamed councils for delays, although…