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IPRT welcomes report on Community Service Orders

19th October 2009

IPRT welcomes the report by the Department of Justice assessing the value for money of the Community Service Scheme.

This is a very important and timely report, particularly in light of the fact that Ireland’s prison population has risen to above 4,000 in recent weeks, for the first time in the history of the State.

IPRT believes that a political decision must now be made to move towards the use of community sanctions as the default penal sanction for less serious offences; punishment by imprisonment should be reserved for the most serious of offences and imposed for the shortest appropriate period of time.

What this new report shows is that – despite its significantly smaller economic cost, and increased benefits to victims, communities, and offenders – community service orders are still significantly underused in Ireland.

Commenting on the report, Liam Herrick, Executive Director of IPRT, said:

“One of the most significant findings of the report is that there are several thousand cases each year in the District Court where a sentence of imprisonment is made and where Community Service Orders could potentially be considered.

"It seems that – on a very practical level – wider use of community service has the potential to significantly reduce the pressure on the Irish Prison Service, and the conditions in Irish prisons. The report also notes that the capacity of Community Service Supervisors is underused and the Probation Service itself believes that the scheme has potential to be significantly expanded.”

Liam Herrick added:

“The cost analysis conducted in the report shows that the average cost of a Community Service Order is currently estimated at €4,295. The same amount of money pays for less than three weeks of imprisonment in Ireland.

"But analysis based on pure financial cost does not pay the whole picture of other benefits that Community Service Orders have for communities and offenders alike. Probation Officers quoted in the report identified several such benefits, among other things the fact that offenders remain in work or education, retain links with families and communities, as well as making reparation to the victims and communities affected by their offending behaviour – benefits that are not normally accrued with the use of prison sentences.”

NOTES FOR EDITORS:

Value for Money and Policy Review of the Community Service Scheme:

The report by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform/The Probation Service “Value for Money and Policy Review of the Community Service Scheme” was published on Thursday, 15th October 2009. Read the report here: http://www.justice.ie/en/JELR/Pages/PB09000158

Figures:

Community Service Orders are still significantly underused in Ireland. The number of community service orders has fallen in 2008 in comparison to 2007; statistics show 1,413 Community Service Orders (CSOs) in 2008, a decrease from 1,519 in the previous year.

International evidence:

Evidence from other jurisdictions shows that community service as a sanction is both significantly cheaper and also more effective than imprisonment as a sanction.

  • In 2006, the Howard League for Penal Reform reported that in the UK in 2002, the re-offending rate after two years for individuals sentenced to a term in prison was 67%, while for those on a community sentence was 54%. See: www.howardleague.org
  • Evidence provided to the Scottish Prisons Commission suggests strongly that when people are imprisoned, particularly for short period of times, “they are more likely than those on community sentences, to be reconvicted and reimprisoned”.

Ireland:

Similar research into the effectiveness of Community Service Orders and other community sanctions is yet to be undertaken in Ireland, and should now be made a priority. IPRT echoes comments made in the report on the need for evidence-based national research to assess the impact of the Scheme on the level of reparation to the community, potential to change offending behaviour, and value added to the communities, as well as reintegration of offenders.

Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT)

IPRT is Ireland's leading non-governmental organisation campaigning for the rights of everyone in prison and the progressive reform of Irish penal policy, with prison as a last resort.

T: + 353 1 874 1400 M: +353 87 135 4107 E: communications@iprt.ie W: www.iprt.ie

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