Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Questions (547)

Ciara Conway

Question:

547. Deputy Ciara Conway asked the Minister for Justice and Equality in view of the fact that prisons are overcrowded and an expense on the State, the measures that are being taken to ensure that community service rather than jail as a viable option for convictions relating to non-payment of fines; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8276/13]

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Written answers (Question to Justice)

The Probation Service of my Department has responsibility for the supervision and management of Community Service Orders in accordance with the Criminal Justice (Community Service) Act, 1983 as amended by the Criminal Justice (Community Service) (Amendment) (No.2) Act 2011. This work, inter alia, involves providing assessment reports to the Courts and managing completion of the Orders by offenders. The use of Community Service Orders generally is monitored but the Courts are independent in exercising their functions.

The Probation Service prioritises its workload and allocates its resources in such a way as to maximise efficiency and effectiveness. This prioritisation includes particular focus on the delivery of front-line services and the supervision of Community Service Orders.

The Probation Service has restructured the delivery of Community Service nationally under the governance of a dedicated Community Service Unit. Besides the 9 dedicated administrative and probation staff, there are 78 Probation Officers working nationally with a range of duties including community service. The Probation Service also engages community service supervisors to manage offenders undertaking community service on work projects. As at the end of January 2013, there were 40 community service supervisor posts nationwide. The recruitment of an additional 4 supervisors for which sanction was received is ongoing. It is expected that these posts will be filled shortly.

The Fines Act, 2010 included a number of provisions designed to minimise the level of fine default and to ensure as far as possible that fine defaulters are not committed to prison, including the imposition of community service. Further measures have been drafted in the Fines (Amendment) Bill 2012 which will introduce the attachment of earnings of a person whose fine remains unpaid. Section 15 is being amended to provide for the payment of fines by instalments as an automatic right rather than having to apply to the Court for the facility.