Irish Penal Reform Trust

Probation Service Annual Report 2020 and Strategy Statement 2021-2023

29th July 2021

The Probation Service Annual Report 2020 and Strategy Statement 2021-2023 have been published by the Minister for State at the Department of Justice, Hildegarde Naughton TD. Key statistics from the report are available below.

One of the main focuses of the report is on the response of the Probation Service to the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. The report notes that work in prisons was continued safely during all public health risk levels, with the task of facilitating the early release and supervision of carefully selected prisoners, through programmes such as Community Return.

The report notes that the volume of referrals received reduced considerably in line with the levels of restrictions. Challenges for the operation of Community Service nationwide during 2020 including reduced capacity and only outdoor work being permissible. The pandemic necessitated a ‘stop and start’ approach to the implementation of the Community Service scheme during 2020.

The number of Community Service Orders (CSOs) made in 2020 (1,161) represents a stark decrease in the number made in 2019 (2,291). While we recognise that the pandemic has had implications for all criminal justice sanctions, with committals to prison also falling during 2020 (this can be ascertained through the Irish Prison Service’s ‘Monthly Information Note’ for December 2020), IPRT is eager to compare the number of CSOs made compared to the number of short prison sentences to assess whether the pandemic has deepened the worrying disparity between the number of CSOs made compared to the persistently high number of committals to prison for sentences of <12 months. (At the time of writing, the Irish Prison Service Annual Report 2020 had not yet been published.)

The Criminal Justice (Community Service) (Amendment) Act 2011 requires judges to consider the appropriateness of community service as an alternative to prison short prison sentences (<12 months) – we have voiced our concern for many years that this legislation does not appear to be functioning as intended. The Department of Justice announced it would review the impact of this law, including the gender impacts, earlier this year. We need to see this review published as a matter of urgency.

IPRT welcomes that the Working Group on female offending continued to work online throughout 2020, bringing together staff from a range of practice areas, to inform a consistent and holistic response in meeting the needs of women on supervision. However, it is essential that this focus on the specific needs of women who offend is translated into increased provision of tailored community sanctions and early release programmes nationwide that meet the needs of women. 

Read the Probation Service Annual Report 2020 here. See some key statistics below.

Probation Service’s new Strategy Statement 2021-2023: Probation Works for Community Safety outlines the strategic vision for the Probation Service over the period up to and including 2023.

Many of the actions in the Action Plan associated with the Strategy reflect recommendations made by IPRT in our submission to the Strategy in March 2021. We particularly welcome actions to: strengthen specific initiatives and put forward new proposals which are gender-specific and responsive to the challenges faced by women; develop a strategy to support the reduction in the use of imprisonment for those currently being sentenced to periods of imprisonment of less than 12 months; engage with the housing sector to improve the responsiveness to critical requirements; establish a Service Users fora to give voice to the lived experience and views of those who have experienced interventions within the justice system; consider best practice for interventions with service users aged 18-24; assist the Department to explore how the civil and public service can provide meaningful employment opportunities to suitably qualified people with convictions; ensure the Service maximises its use of data; and to more effectively communicate the role and responsibilities of the Service to the general public, stakeholders and partners.

Read the Probation Service Strategy Statement 2021-2023 here. Read the associated Action Plan here.


2020 in numbers:

  • 15,537 offenders were dealt with in the community (compared to 16,607 in 2019)
  • 2,730 prisoners worked with the Probation Service (compared to 2,689 in 2019)
  • 1,161 Community Service Orders made (compared to 2,291 in 2019)
  • 167 Community Service Orders made for female offenders (compared to 352 in 2019)
  • 162,829 hours of community service work were carried out instead of 593 years in prison; resulting in over € 1.6 million worth of unpaid work for the benefit of communities
  • Compliance rates with the Community Return scheme remained high in 2020, above 85%

Respect for rights in the penal system with prison as a last resort.



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