Justice served by probation
New study confirms reoffending is much lower among those not sent to prison
An important new Irish research study, which tracked reoffending by persons who had been on probation orders or community service orders, has found that almost two in every three did not reoffend in the two years after being put on probation or community service by a court.
The study was undertaken and published jointly by the Probation Service and the Central Statistics Office (CSO). The research followed 3,576 offenders sentenced to probation or community service in 2007, tracking reoffending over the following two years as evidenced by any reconviction over the four years after supervision in the community was imposed. It is the first such study on supervised community sanctions carried out in this country and has important policy and practice implications.
Research findings include:
almost 63 per cent of offenders on probation or community service in 2007 had no further conviction for any offence committed in the following two years;
the overall reconviction rate was 37.2 per cent;
males made up 86 per cent of those tracked, and had a higher reconviction rate than female offenders in the study;
where reoffending did occur, it was more likely to be in the first year after the probation or community service order was made (27 per cent of those who reoffended) than in the second year (10 per cent); reoffending decreased as offenders got older;
public order was the most common original offence and these offenders also had the highest rate of reconviction (at 49 per cent);
the three most common offence types for which offenders were reconvicted – public order, theft and drugs – were the same as the three most common original offences.
For the study, the CSO carried out a complex data matching exercise, cross-checking statistical data held in relation to prosecution and court outcomes, as well as Probation Service case tracking data.
How do the findings from this research compare with similar studies carried out in other jurisdictions? The Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research (SCCJR) recently published a comparative study of reoffending in six jurisdictions – Scotland, England and Wales, Northern Ireland, Ireland, Norway and New Zealand. It compared reoffending rates both for those who had been imprisoned and those who had received community sentences. Reoffending rates in general varied between 30 per cent and 50 per cent across all the countries studied.
Irish statistics used in the study were relatively old (2001-2004) and focused solely on re-imprisonment rates of those completing prison sentences between 2001 and 2004. The findings then were that over a quarter were re-imprisoned within one year, with almost half being re-imprisoned within four years.
The international comparative evidence is that reoffending rates are significantly higher among those released from prison sentences than for those dealt with by alternatives such as probation and community service. British ministry of justice and other data point to rates of reoffending being significantly higher for those released from prison sentences of 12 months or less, compared to those serving longer sentences, and particularly when compared to offenders who receive community-based sentences.