IPRT - Irish Penal Reform Trust

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More community sentences planned

10th November 2010

IPRT welcomes the cabinet support for Minister Ahern’s proposals to bring forward legislation which will require judges to consider Community Service Orders in place of custodial sentences of 6 months or less.

IPRT has consistently called for a greater use of community sanctions in dealing with less serious offences. 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 far greater benefit to society than imprisonment, which should be reserved for the most serious of offences.

The Probation Service has recently employed more effective work practices which means a faster processing time of court assessments for CSO suitability, and the capacity to manage an increase in CSOs. Work carried out includes graffiti removal, reconstruction and other work for charities, to which the Service reports very positive reactions. So it is a win-win situation for everyone.

Moreover, the increased use of Community Service Orders is a commonsense response to chronic prison overcrowding. Until now, Government response to prison crowding has been to increase the number of prison spaces, which has proven again and again to be costly and ineffective, with serious negative consequences for society in the longer term.

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.

Figures:

  • 70% of sentenced committals in 2009 were for 6 months or less.
  • There were 3,601 sentenced committals for road traffic offences in 2009, representing 33.1% of the total; this is an increase of 59% on 2008.
  • The cost of a staffed prison space for 2009 was €77,222 (€1,485 per week), whereas the average cost of a community service order is €2,500 (2008 figure).

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