Following on the heels of the Irish Prison Service, this week saw the publication of The Probation Service Annual Report for 2011. The Report presents a positive snapshot of the growing prominence of community service, with a 40% increase in the use of community sanctions delivered totalling over 400,000 hours of work undertaken in the community. These positive figures come in the wake of the Criminal Justice (Community Service) (Amendment) Act 2011. The Act requires that if at sentencing a judge is considering a term of imprisonment of 12 months or less, he must first consider the appropriateness of a community sanction.
The Report also details the Community Return scheme which commenced on a pilot basis in 2011, working with 130 offenders to the six-month period ending in March 2012. The Probation Service has reason to be optimistic about the scheme’s benefits as the Department of Justice has recently pledged to roll-out the scheme nationally, dealing with 1,200 prisoners over a three-year period. The scheme is an earned early release programme, incentivising the behaviour of prisoners, and linking them up with vital yet neglected tasks in communities on their release.
The 2011 Report also announces that the restorative justice pilots in both Tallaght and Nenagh, which have been running for some years, have been extended. A welcome development in an area of policy that had appeared to stagnate somewhat in recent times with little being known of the projected development of the pilots.