IPRT Welcomes the Extension of Community Service Orders

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The Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) welcomes the Cabinet decision to increase the use of Community Service Orders. This follows recommendations made by the Probation Service to greatly extend the number of community service places; it also answers consistent calls from IPRT for a greater use of community sanctions in dealing with less serious offences.

Against the background of soaring numbers in prison in Ireland, which reached 4,192 last Friday (12th February 2010), IPRT greatly welcomes the extension of Community Service Orders as a commonsense response to chronic prison overcrowding. Until now, Government response has been to increase the number of prison spaces, an erroneous ‘solution’ which has proven again and again to be costly and ineffective, with serious negative consequences for society in the longer term.

We particularly welcomes the Government commitment that imprisonment will now be used as a measure of last resort in the case of fine defaulters, which IPRT has consistently campaigned for over the past 15 years. We believe the principle of imprisonment as a last resort, which is enshrined in the Children Act 2001 and included in the proposed Fines Bill 2009, should be extended to all those who are convicted of more minor offences.

Speaking today, IPRT Executive Director Liam Herrick said:

“A political decision now needs to be made to move towards the use of community sanctions as the default penal sanction for all less serious offences, not only fine default.

“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 greater benefit to society than punishment with imprisonment, which should be reserved for the most serious of offences.

“On a very practical level, the wider use of community service has the potential to significantly reduce the pressure on the Irish Prison Service, and the conditions in Irish prisons.

“However, it is absolutely crucial that 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.”