Probation Service sees significant drop in referrals due to Covid

Last year's tally of 6,661 referrals from courts was almost 4,000 fewer than in 2019
Probation Service sees significant drop in referrals due to Covid

The pandemic had an impact on the provision of community service orders.

There was a significant fall in the number of referrals made to the Probation Service last year due to Covid-19, with the pandemic also impacting on the provision of community service orders.

The annual report from the Probation Service shows that it worked with 15,537 offenders in the community last year, with 9,366 probation reports completed and 2,164 community service assessments completed. It also worked with 2,730 prisoners in 2020. 

In addition, the service worked with 115 life sentence prisoners, while 429 sex offenders were supervised in the community.

Last year's tally of 6,661 referrals from courts was almost 4,000 fewer than in 2019, while 70% of new referrals were for pre-sanction reports.

The top six offences resulting in referrals to the Probation Service, accounting for more than 75% of all referrals, were drug offences, theft, assault, public order offences, road traffic offences, and burglary.

Carlow was the county with the highest rate of referrals to the Probation Service last year, while Kerry had the fewest.

In the report, Mark Wilson, director of the Probation Service, said: "The interruption to the work of the courts resulted in a significant reduction in the level of referrals in 2020."

The Probation Service was classified as an essential service during the pandemic and Mr Wilson paid tribute to the efforts to staff who quickly adjusted to the new reality.

That encompassed changes to when and how certain elements of probation could be dealt with, including community service, with less than half the number of community service reports prepared last year than in 2019.

According to the report, 1,161 community service orders were managed last year, totalling 162,829 hours of community service work in lieu of 593 years in prison, resulting in over €1.6m worth of unpaid work for the benefit of communities nationwide.

Challenging year

The report said 2020 "proved a very challenging year for the operation of community service nationwide. Some of the challenges posed were reduced capacity and only outdoor work was permissible."

It said the pandemic necessitated a "stop and start" approach to the implementation of the community service scheme during 2020.

The report said more than 1,000 high-risk cases were prioritised for additional attention, last year, such as people posing a significant risk of harm and perpetrators of domestic violence. The number of sex offenders in prison that have been in contact with the Probation Service actually increased last year.

According to the report: "The onset of Covid-19 and restrictions on movement due to lockdowns throughout the year was particularly challenging for families who experienced domestic abuse. The Probation Service categorised domestic abuse cases as a priority for supervision throughout this challenging time, being mindful of safety issues for all concerned."

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