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IPRT welcomes publication of Criminal Justice Bill

12th January 2011

IPRT has today welcomed new legislation which brings our vision of a penal system where imprisonment is used only as a last resort closer to reality.

The Criminal Justice (Community Service) (Amendment) Bill 2011, published today, will require the courts to consider imposing a community service order for minor offences where it would otherwise be appropriate to sentence the offender to imprisonment for a period of up to six months.

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 - so called 'net-widening'.

Furthermore, it is essential that the Probation Service is adequately resourced to support this welcome step.

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.

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.

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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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