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Community Service Bill back in Dáil: Second Stage

21st March 2011

[Updated 24th March, 2011]

The Criminal Justice (Community Service)(Amendment)(No. 2) Bill 2011 is tabled for consideration by the Dáil on Thurs, 24th March. IPRT has previously welcomed this 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) (No. 2) Bill 2011, differs from that published in January by then Minister Ahern in that it 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 12 months. (Previously it would have applied to sentences of <6 months.)

While welcoming this development, IPRT cautions that 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 continues to be 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 of much 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.

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  • 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 €4,295.

Total number of community service orders, 2004-2010:

2004       843
2005    1,167
2006    1,158
2007    1,519
2008    1,413
2009    1,667
2010    1,949

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