The Community Return Programme is an incentivised scheme introduced in line with the recommendations of the Thornton Hall Project Review Group which provides for earned temporary release for offenders who pose no threat to the community, to engagement in supervised community service work. The type of work involved is intended to assist the community and the scheme is involved with a large number of charitable organisations and local community groups. The work takes place in a supervised group setting and involves practical tasks such as painting, gardening or graffiti removal.
The scheme is applicable to suitably assessed prisoners who are serving sentences of between one and eight years. Those participating are granted reviewable temporary release having served at least 50% of their sentence.
The following factors are taken into account in considering the suitability of a prisoner for temporary release to participate in the scheme:
the nature and gravity of the offence to which the sentence being served by the person relates;
the sentence concerned and any recommendation made by the Court in relation to the sentence imposed;
the potential threat to the safety and security of the public should the person be released;
the person's previous criminal record;
the risk that the person might commit an offence during any period of temporary release;
the risk of the person failing to comply with any of the conditions of temporary release;
the extent of the prisoner's engagement with therapeutic services while in custody and the likelihood of period of temporary release enhancing his/her reintegration prospects; and
conduct while in custody.
As announced with the launch of its new three year strategic plan, the Prison Service, in conjunction with the Probation Service, intends to increase the number of prisoners benefitting from this structured form of release over the course of the next three years. The Prison Service will work towards the placement of 400 prisoners per annum serving sentences of 1 to 8 years. It is envisaged that there would be no more than 150 prisoners participating in this scheme at any one time and all prisoners will be carefully assessed before being approved for the scheme.
There have to date been 220 participants on the scheme with 87 offenders currently engaged in community service work. 105 offenders have already completed the programme successfully with a small percentage of prisoners returned to custody for non-compliance. The reports to date from the Community Site Supervisors have been very positive and many of the participants have been commended for their work ethic, punctuality and commitment. Initial feedback from the participants has also been positive with many commenting on the supports and structure that it gives them on their release and how it has assisted in their transition back into the community.