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IPRT welcomes increase in use of community sanctions as alternative to prison

15th August 2012

MEDIA ADVISORY

The Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) welcomes the significant increase in the use of community sanctions as an alternative to imprisonment revealed in The Probation Service Annual Report 2011, which was published today (Wednesday, 15th August 2012). IPRT also strongly welcomes the declaration by Minister Shatter of his continued “full support” for The Probation Service in making greater use of community service as an alternative to imprisonment.

However, IPRT remains very concerned that the Fines Act 2010 has not yet been fully implemented more than two years after it was signed into law. Positive developments in diverting less serious offenders away from prison are being offset by the continued imprisonment of people for fines default, for which there were 7,514 committals in 2011 and 4,470 committals in the first 6 months of 2012 alone.

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

“IPRT welcomes the increases in the use of community service orders as an alternative to custodial sentences, which shows that the judiciary are responding to spirit of the Criminal Justice (Community Service) (Amendment) Act 2011 which calls for community service to be considered by a judge in all cases where a short prison sentence can be imposed. The increase in the use of community sanctions have been made possible by improved Probation Service efficiencies in preparing court assessment reports.  The Probation Service deserves great credit for achieving these results at a time of restricted resources.” 

“However, we have not yet seen a corresponding decrease in the number of committals to prison for short sentences, with a 10% increase in the number of committals on sentences of less than 3 months in 2011. For as long as Ireland continues to persist in imprisoning thousands of people for fines default, any positive developments in reducing the use of short custodial sentences will be seriously undermined.  Addressing the problem of imprisonment for fine default remains the missing link in reducing the overuse of prison for less serious offending.”

“Furthermore, the Probation Service report reveals that offenders in Monaghan and Louth appear to be six times more likely to be referred for a Community Service Order than those in Kerry and Wicklow, suggesting that major geographical inconsistencies remain in relation to sentencing.”

There was a 48% increase in the number of Community Service Orders made in 2011, with over 420,000 hours of meaningful community work being completed in lieu of custodial sentences. 1,035 years would otherwise have been served in prison. At a cost of €65,910 per prisoner per year, this highlights the significant social and economic benefits of a shift to the use of imprisonment as a sanction of last resort.

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.

On publication of The Probation Service Annual Report 2011, the Irish Penal Reform Trust is restating its calls on Government to:

  • Monitor the extent to which the scheme is being uniformly applied across the Courts, in particular the District Courts, on a national basis.
  • Ensure 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.
  • Ensure that the Probation Service continues to be adequately resourced to support this welcome development.
  • Ensure that the Fines Act 2010 is fully implemented and the necessary Courts Service ICT systems installed with urgency.

For more information or media enquiries, or to arrange an interview, please contact: Fíona on087 181 2990

NOTES FOR EDITORS:

1. COMMUNITY SANCTIONS

  • The average cost of a Community Service Order is currently estimated at approx. €2,200. The average annual cost of accommodating a prisoner in 2011 was €65,910.
  • 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. International longitudinal studies all demonstrate lower re-offending rates for individuals serving community services orders for less serious offences compared with prison sentences; the positive benefits of alternatives to custodial sentences are even more pronounced for young offenders.
  • On 27th July 2011, IPRT welcomed the passing of the Criminal Justice (Community Service)(Amendment)(No. 2) Act 2011, which requires the courts to consider imposing a community service order for those offences where it would otherwise be appropriate to sentence the offender to imprisonment for a period of up to twelve months. The Act came into force on 1st October 2011.
  • IPRT made 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 16th February 2010. See: http://www.iprt.ie/contents/1555

2. FINES

  • The Fines Act 2010 was signed into law on 2nd June 2010. Section 15, which allows for the payment by instalment of a fine over a 12-month period (and, exceptionally, over a 2 year period) has not yet been commenced. The Courts Service ICT system has been cited as the reason.
  • Imprisonment for fines 2007-2012
    • Year       Fines     Debts
    • 2012       4,470 (Jan-June 2012)
    • 2011       7,514     35
    • 2010       6,683     5
    • 2009       4,806     162
    • 2008       2,520     255
    • 2007       1,335     201

3. 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: www.iprt.ie