25th May 2018
Short-term custodial sentences (under 12 months) without supervision on release are associated with higher levels of reoffending than sentences served in the community via court orders (community orders and suspended sentence orders). An Analytical Summary recently published by the Ministry of Justice examines the reoffending impact of short-term custodial and court order sentences on different groups of offenders. It explores whether the reoffending impact differs according to offenders’ age, ethnicity, gender, and mental health, and according to the number of previous offences. This report also provides further analysis on the reoffending impact of suspended sentence orders compared with similar cases where community orders were given. Such information may be useful for identifying groups particularly at risk of reoffending.
Reoffending datasets were used in the analysis, containing details of adult offenders released from a short-term custodial sentence or commencing a court order in 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011. Approximately 353,000 offence-level records were analysed which suggests that the findings in this report are broadly representative. Reoffending was mostly examined over a one-year follow-up period, with a further six months allowed for cases to go through the courts. Cautions and convictions constitute reoffending. The follow-up period for reoffending starts from sentencing for court orders and from prison release for the custodial sentences, thereby taking into account time spent in the community.
The report highlights the following key findings:
In an Irish context, IPRT launched a major research study in October 2017 on the operation of community service orders as alternatives to short prison sentences in Ireland. Administrative data from the Irish Prison and Probation Services pertaining to all cases sentenced to a short-term of imprisonment or community service order between 2011 and 2012, were linked with criminal history and re-arrest data from An Garda Síochána, and comparative analyses were conducted. The results of the IPRT research reflect the findings of the Analytical Summary published by the Ministry of Justice. When cases that did not successfully complete their community service order were excluded, it was found that short-term prison cases were more likely to be rearrested at all follow-up periods when compared to community service order cases that successfully completed their orders. However, this result was not statistically significant. This study also highlighted that those serving community service orders were more focused on their long-term options than those serving short-term prison sentences.
The Analytical Summary published by the Ministry of Justice is available here.
Dr Kate O’Hara’s PhD research project is available here. IPRT also published a Discussion Paper based on the qualitative findings of the study, with key recommendations as to how community service orders could be better utilised in the future. This Discussion Paper is available here.