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IPRT welcomes extension of Community Service Orders

17th February 2010

Ireland moves a step closer to imprisonment as a last resort

The Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) today welcomes the Cabinet decision to increase the use of Community Service Orders. This follows recommendations made by the Probation Service to greatly extend the number of community service places; it also answers consistent calls from IPRT for a greater use of community sanctions in dealing with less serious offences.

Against the background of soaring numbers in prison in Ireland, which reached 4,192 last Friday (12th February 2010), IPRT greatly welcomes the extension of Community Service Orders as a commonsense response to chronic prison overcrowding. Until now, Government response has been to increase the number of prison spaces, an erroneous ‘solution’ which has proven again and again to be costly and ineffective, with serious negative consequences for society in the longer term.

IPRT particularly welcomes the Government commitment that imprisonment will now be used as a measure of last resort in the case of fine defaulters, which IPRT has consistently campaigned for over the past 15 years. IPRT believes the principle of imprisonment as a last resort, which is enshrined in the Children Act 2001 and included in the proposed Fines Bill 2009, should be extended to all those who are convicted of more minor offences.

Speaking today, IPRT Executive Director Liam Herrick said: 

“A political decision now needs to be made to move towards the use of community sanctions as the default penal sanction for all less serious offences, not only fine default.

“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, is all of greater benefit to society than punishment with imprisonment, which should be reserved for the most serious of offences.

“On a very practical level, the wider use of community service has the potential to significantly reduce the pressure on the Irish Prison Service, and the conditions in Irish prisons.

“However, it is absolutely crucial that Community Service Orders are used only where the individual would otherwise receive a custodial sentence, and not to draw more people into the criminal justice system.”

For media enquiries, or to arrange an interview with Liam Herrick, IPRT Executive Director, please contact:

Fíona Ní Chinnéide,
Campaigns & Communications Officer
Irish Penal Reform Trust

T: + 353 1 874 1400          E: communications@iprt.ie

NOTES FOR EDITORS:

Community Service Orders

  1. IPRT makes the case for an increased use of community-based sanctions in Ireland to replace the use of imprisonment in the IPRT Position Paper 8: Community Sanctions, published yesterday (16th February 2010.) See: http://www.iprt.ie/contents/1555
  2. The number of Community Service Orders fell from 1,519 in 2007 to 1,413 in 2008, in a year that sentenced committals to prison increased by 13.6%.
  3. 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.
  4. Community service as a sanction is not only significantly cheaper than imprisonment, but it is also more effective as a sanction. In Ireland, 85% of those sentenced for fine default return to prison within 4 years. In the UK, the Howard League for Penal Reform reported that 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%.
  5. 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 15th October 2009: http://www.justice.ie/en/JELR/Pages/PB09000158

Fines Bill 2009:

IPRT welcomes the introduction of the Fines Bill 2009 which, when implemented, will go some way towards alleviating the current situation of the over-use of imprisonment in cases of non-payment of fines. However, some changes still need to be introduced before it is enacted into law. These include:

  • the removal of the lower limit of fines below which payment by installments is not possible (currently proposed to be set at €100)
  • the introduction of a CSO as a default sanction upon fine default (rather than the proposed use as an alternative to a term of imprisonment which would remain as a primary sanction)
  • the power of the Court to impose a fine higher than reasonably expected should be limited to exceptional cases and an explanation of why such sanction is decided upon should be provided in Court.
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