Ahern ‘fully committed’ to Community Service Scheme report

JUSTICE MINISTER Dermot Ahern said he was “fully committed” to implementing the findings of a Government report which called for a major expansion of community sanctions instead of imprisonment.

The report – drawn up by experts from the Department of Justice, the Probation Service and the judiciary – said several thousand offenders are being imprisoned each year when they could be serving their sentences in the community. The Value for Money and Policy Review (VFM) of the Community Service Scheme said that Community Service Orders (CSOs) were a “very cost effective option” and that prisons were about seven times more expensive.

“The minister is fully committed to act on the recommendations of the VFM Report and is aware that the Probation Service has been pro-active in developing structures and processes which are consistent with the proposals it contains,” said a spokesman for Mr Ahern. “The restructured model of service delivery for community service developed by the Probation Service will ensure efficiency, value for money and benefits for communities through the unpaid work of offenders done in lieu of custodial sentences.” The VFR report, as revealed in yesterday’s Irish Examiner, found:

* The average cost of CSOs was €4,295 per offender, compared with €27,478 per offender in prison.

* The number of CSOs issued by the District Courts fell from 2,883 in 2003 to 2,500 in 2007.

* The Community Service Scheme has capacity to take three times as many offenders as it currently does.

“The implementation of the new and reinvigorated Community Service Programme means that the Probation Service will be well placed to respond to an increase in the number of Community Service Orders,” said the minister’s spokesman. “The Probation Service will avail of placements with community organisations and placements supervised by the Probation Service directly.”

The Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) called on the Government to act and move towards to use of community sanctions. “One of the most significant findings of the report is that there are several thousand cases each year in the District Court where a sentence of imprisonment is made and where Community Service Orders could potentially be considered. It seems that – on a very practical level – wider use of community service has the potential to significantly reduce the pressure on the Irish Prison Service, and the conditions in Irish prisons,” said IPRT director Liam Herrick.

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