Fall in number of community service orders recorded
Courts Service figures show wide divergence in use of provision around the country
The number of community service orders (CSOs) issued to convicted people instead of imprisonment has fallen in the past 12 months, according to new statistics.
The Courts Service figures, covering 34 District Court offices and giving orders by offence, also reveal a wide divergence in the use of the provision whereby offenders can work unpaid for the community in which they commit minor offences.
Overall, service orders issued declined from 3,666 in 2012 to 3,131 last year.
Even allowing for reductions in the number of offenders before many District Courts, the use of the order has declined dramatically in many areas, notably Cork and Waterford. It has has almost halved in Naas, Co Kildare, and Nenagh, Co Tipperary.
In the Dublin metropolitan district its use fell from 1,321 in 2012 to 924 last year.
The decline is despite an amendment to the principal legislation in 2011 to encourage far greater usage of the provision – a move
marked by large increases in recent years.
Last year, some 203 CSOs were handed down in Letterkenny, 53 in Sligo and Mallow, nine in Kilkenny, seven in Tralee and one in Carrick-on-Shannon. In Clonakilty, which administers West Cork, 30 were handed out.
Bray, Co Wicklow was one of a handful of court districts to experience a large increase, up from 36 in 2012 to 110 in 2013. Limerick rose from 85 orders in 2012 to 183 last year.
The legislation concerning service orders allows a judge to sentence convicted offenders to between 40 and 240 hours work where a custodial sentence would otherwise be applied.
The Probation Service assesses candidates advanced by the courts, but the option of community service is at the discretion of the individual judge.
Offenders, who must be more than 16, can be asked to clean graveyards, maintain community halls, public parks and gardens and engage in general ground clearance. They are supervised by the service or, as is often the case, by voluntary and community organisations who accept offenders.
However, offenders with addiction problems are unsuitable for service orders, according to the Probation Service.
“The aim of community service is to get offenders to pay back to the community in a positive way for the damage caused by offending . . . benefiting many community and voluntary groups,” said the Probation Service.
There have been calls for all sentences under six months to be replaced by CSOs. But in the sanctions/reparation legislation announced last week to replace the Probation of Offenders Act 1907, Minister for Justice Alan Shatter said he has decided to leave the community service orders as it is under the 1983 Act.