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Plan to cut prison numbers by boosting community service

New legislation will force judges to consider community work instead of jail for minor offenders.

Image: amandabhslater via Flickr

JUSTICE MINISTER ALAN Shatter has announced a new plan to boost community service numbers by compelling judges to factor it in as a sentencing option.

Judges will now be required to consider community service instead of jail for minor offenders, in a move the government hopes will save money and ease pressure on crowded prisons. Any offender facing a sentence of 12 months or less could now do community service instead of jail time.

The provision is contained in the Criminal Justice (Community Service) (Amendment) Act 2011, which came into force yesterday. Announcing the new legislation, Minister Shatter said the move would save money as well as benefiting the wider community with offenders’ unpaid labour.

He said the legislation was “a response to the under utilisation of community service and a recognition of the importance of non-custodial alternatives to imprisonment”. Minister Shatter continued:

Increasing the use of community service delivers financial savings, diverts from the prison system offenders considered appropriate for community service, and provides reparation in the form of unpaid work to the benefit of the community. The comparative costs of a community service order have been estimated to be as low as 11-12 per cent of the alternative cost of imprisonment, and unlikely to exceed 34 per cent.

In a statement, the government said community service also allows offenders to maintain ties with “family, friends and community” and continue in education or employment. Use of such orders has more than double since 2004, when 843 were handed down. Some 1,712 community service orders have been imposed by judges this year alone.

Read more: Fewer child offenders referred to Diversion Programme>

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Michael Freeman

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