The Minister for Justice and Law Reform, Mr Dermot Ahern, T.D., said the Government today gave the go-ahead for new legislation aimed at encouraging the greater use of community service orders as an alternative to prison.
Minister Ahern said work will commence on drafting a new Bill to amend the Criminal Justice (Community Service) Act 1983 whereby courts will be required 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 six months.
Minister Ahern said the community service scheme as it currently operates is significantly under used. A Value for Money and Policy Review of the Community Service Scheme (published October 2009) found that operating at full capacity, supervision services could be provided to three times as many offenders. Offenders who would be suitable for community service are instead serving prison sentences, often for minor offences.
The Minister said that increasing the use of community service will deliver substantial financial savings as it is a considerably cheaper sanction than imprisonment.
The Minister said: "It benefits offenders by diverting them from prison allowing them to maintain ties with family, friends and community, including continuing in education or employment. Communities throughout the country will benefit from the unpaid work carried out by those serving community service orders.
There is an under-utilisation of the community service scheme in this country. I am determined that those offenders who would be appropriate for community service are considered for such. These proposals will focus the attention of the courts to the availability of the alternative sanction of community service. I look forward to seeing an increase in the use of the community service scheme particularly in relation to those offenders convicted of minor offences."
9 November 2010
Note to Editors:
· Community service orders (CSO) may be made under the Criminal Justice (Community Service) Act 1983. An order may be made in respect of an offender who is over the age of 16 and has been convicted of a criminal offence and for which a sentence of imprisonment would be appropriate.
· A CSO specifies the number of hours of work to be completed which may be between 40 and 240 hours.
· A court may not apply a CSO unless satisfied, on the basis of an assessment report of a probation officer, that the offender is a suitable person for the purpose of such an order, appropriate work is available and the offender has consented to the order.
· Although an available sentencing option to all criminal courts (excluding the Special Criminal Court) the vast majority of orders are applied by the District Court.