New legislation to amend the Criminal Justice (Community Service) Act 1983 is intended to be brought forward by the Government and is proposed to alter the perceived underuse of the current community service scheme.
At present 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 for which a sentence of imprisonment would be appropriate. 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 such an order, appropriate work is available, and the offender has consented to the order. A CSO specifies a number between 40 and 240 hours of work to be completed.
Although CSOs are an available sentencing option to all criminal courts (excluding the Special Criminal Court), the vast majority of orders are applied by the District Court. It has been found that offenders who would be suitable for community service are instead serving prison sentences, often for minor offences. The ‘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.
The Minister of Justice and Law Reform, Dermot Ahern said that increasing the use of community service will deliver substantial financial savings as it is a considerably cheaper sanction than imprisonment. He said it would benefit offenders by diverting them from prison allowing them to maintain ties with family, friends and community, and to continue attendance in educational courses or employment. Also, communities throughout the country will benefit from the unpaid work carried out by those serving community service orders.