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Community service: 'Cheaper than jail and makes society more safe'

Last year, there were 2,354 Community Service Orders made, with a total of just over 352,000 hours in lieu of a custodial sentence.

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LAST YEAR, SOME 2,076 people were sentenced to community service.

The merits of the system were recently questioned when two former Anglo executives, Patrick Whelan and Willie McAteer, were sentenced to 240 hours of community service.

It had been thought that they could face up to five years in prison for providing loans to a group of developers.

In 2013, there were 2,354 Community Service Orders made, with a total of just over 352,000 hours in lieu of a custodial sentence. Based on 2013 data, the average number of hours for each Community Service Order is approximately 150 hours.

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Speaking to TheJournal.ie this week, Deirdre Malone, Director of the Irish Prison Reform Service, said community alternatives for less serious offences “make society more safe”.

She said it is the best way to reduce crime in the future and is both cheaper and more effective than prison sentencing.

In prison, it can cost up to €65,000 a year, not including education, per prisoner while a community service order costs about €1,500 on average.

It’s an enormous difference. And it works.

She pointed out that numbers of people re-offending in two years after being sentenced are much lower for those who did community service.

It also allows people to maintain links with society, therefore reducing the costs to society in the longer term, according to Malone.

If you keep people out of prison and they maintain links with family and the community they have a better chance if maintaining a non offending life.

“In prison, all the factors that contributed to offending – mental health issues, unemployment, lack of education, are compacted.”

Malone said IPRT believes prison should be the “sanction of last resort” when it comes to less serious crimes.

Read: ‘Enjoy your community service’: Judge gives former Anglo execs maximum 240 hours>

Read: Community service use increased by 40 per cent in 2011>

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