Irish Penal Reform Trust

Irish Penal Reform Trust welcomes increase in use of community service as a response to offending

17th June 2019

IPRT PRESS RELEASE 

The Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) has said that the rise in the number of offenders being dealt with through the Irish probation services is very welcome, as detailed in the annual report of the Probation Service, published today (17.06.19).

Commenting on the 2018 annual report of the Probation Service, the Executive Director of IPRT, Fíona Ní Chinnéide said: “Overall, the number of offenders dealt with by the probation service increased, with almost 16,000 people engaging with the service in 2018. Community-based sanctions are more effective responses to offending by certain groups, and are less damaging than imprisonment. This is a very welcome development but the trajectory must be monitored to ensure that it is being used as a genuine alternative to imprisonment, and not to widen the net.”

IPRT also welcomed the further development of integrated community service programmes – addressing issues such as addiction – and the establishment of the National Restorative Justice and Victim Services Unit.  IPRT said it looked forward to the extension of these approaches in the coming years, and said this should be supported by progress on the Criminal Justice (Community Sanctions) Bill 2014, which is intended to update and strengthen the use of community sanctions in Ireland.

However, the expressed concern at the fall in numbers participating in the Community Return Programme.  “Against the backdrop of increased prisoner numbers, it’s disappointing that the numbers participating in the Community Return Programme only reached 218.  Four years previously – in 2014 – there were 462 offenders in the programme.  With increased pressure on the prison system, now is the time for more, rather than less of this successful intervention,” said Ms Ní Chinnéide.

IPRT is seeking action to address decreasing numbers on the Community Return Programme. Ms Ní Chinnéide continued: “Structured, early-release is a proven way to reduce pressure on our prisons in a safe and effective way.  Given the current pressures on our prisons, a fresh review of criteria for community return should be undertaken with a view to expanding eligibility.  An independent review of programme outcomes should also be undertaken, particularly for women.” 

IPRT noted that Community Service Orders increased in 2018 to 2,499.  “While this represents an increase on 2017 (2,215), it is a decline on the peak of 2,738 in 2011 when the law requiring judges to consider community service came into effect.  Some gentle nudging and reminding might be one course of action to increase the Community Service Orders in sentencing,” added Ms Ní Chinnéide.

ENDS

Contact: Sebastian Enke, DHR Communications, Tel: 01-4200580 / 087-3239496

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