Dáil Éireann - Volume 569 - 19 June, 2003

Written Answers. - Community Service Orders.

  129. Dr. Cowley asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform his plans to extend community service as a means of rehabilitating young, and first-time offenders, rather than custodial jail sentences; if he will extend this service to specific agreed community projects in association with his own Department and other Departments, such as the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17269/03]

  Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. McDowell): Under the Criminal Justice (Community Service) Act 1983 a court may make a community service order as an alternative to a sentence of imprisonment or detention in respect of any individual over the age of 16 years who has been convicted of a criminal offence and who consents to the order being made. The order requires an offender to perform unpaid work for between 40 and 240 hours, usually to be completed within 12 months. An offender may be rehabilitated through the discipline of having to work in the community and the making of meaningful reparation to that community for his or her crime. The probation and welfare service of my Department supervise those offenders undergoing community service orders.

  The making of a community service order is a matter entirely for the judiciary and one in which I have no function. However, the courts already have and do exercise wide discretion in using community service orders in dealing with people over 16 years of age who offend. It is used in practice for all age categories of offenders, first time or recidivist.

  Work projects are negotiated by the probation and welfare service with a wide range of community and voluntary agencies, usually resulting from an approach by the agency but, when necessary, arising from an approach to an agency by the service. An agreement negotiated with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions requires that the work undertaken would be work which would be left undone if the labour was not made available through the community service order scheme. It also requires that the work undertaken would not normally be the work of persons employed by the organisation e.g. collecting litter.

  While some Departments may be able to suggest work which might otherwise be left undone and which may not be the task of paid employees, most of the work of such Departments is likely to be part of the tasks of existing employees. However, the probation and welfare service is [220]open to consider any suggestion which may be capable of implementation.

  I would also like to advise the Deputy that the Children Act 2001 introduces a wide range of innovative measures that will provide a statutory framework for the future development of the juvenile justice system in accordance with modern thinking and best international practice. Three Departments have a role in implementing the Act: the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, the Department of Health and Children and the Department of Education and Science. The National Children's Office has responsibility to oversee the implementation of the Act and co-ordinate regular working group meetings.

  It is an underlying concept of the Children Act to expand the options a court will have at its disposal when deciding on how to deal with a young offender. These options are an essential feature of the Act as they will allow effect to be given to the principle that detention for young offenders will be a last resort. Thus, the Act envisages committals to custody of young offenders being availed of only in situations where other alternative diversions and community-based options have been resorted to and have failed.

  Question No. 130 answered with Question No. 31.