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Better information about community work needed


Better information about community work needed

The Corrections Minister Paul Swain is seeking better information about the implementation of the new community work sentence.

Community Work replaced Periodic Detention and Community Service, following the introduction of the Sentencing Act on 30 June 2002.

Under this sentence, offenders are required to complete between 40 to 400 hours of unpaid work in their community, as reparation for their crimes.

Those sentenced to up to 200 hours have up to 12 months to complete these hours, and those sentenced to 200 – 400 hours have 24 months to complete their hours.

"Following visits to some Probation Service offices late last year I became aware of some issues with Community Work."

"Community Work is relatively new, and is still settling in as a sentencing option, for around 29,000 offenders a year."

"I am aware for example that there has been a lot of debate within the Probation Service on the best way to measure the performance of the sentence, in particular compliance rates and completion rates."

"I want to make sure that we are getting the right information on a regular basis to help us assess the performance of the new sentence.”

“Early statistics show that completion rates reported to date are at least as good as those from the old sentences of Periodic Detention and Community Service,” says Mr Swain.

“But it is essential that these rates are maintained and improved. I have therefore requested better information from officials."

"First, the Community Probation Service will provide me with an assurance that all offenders are required to sign an agreement at the earliest possible opportunity, which spells out the timeframe for them to carry out their community work."

This will allow for better monitoring of an individual offender's compliance rate.

"Secondly, the Community Probation Service will put in place random audits of the local monthly monitoring returns, and report to me quarterly on these audits. These returns are used as a tool to help probation officers plan attendance on a particular day. This will provide me with further assurance that the integrity of the sentence is being maintained across the 48 centres throughout the country."

"Thirdly, the Community Probation Service will report quarterly to me on the enforcement action being taken in respect of offenders who do not comply with their community work sentence."

Mr Swain also says he has a message for those sentenced to community work.

“The sentence is designed to be flexible enough to allow people to continue to work and to meet other responsibilities, with the probation officer and the offender agreeing when the Community Work hours will be done. For example, an offender who is offered a job working on a fishing boat can accept the job, and do three days per week of Community Work when back on shore.

“But any offenders who think they can dawdle their way through their sentence need to think again,” Mr Swain says.

“Vigorous enforcement action is being taken against people who do not do their Community Work as agreed, and I fully support this initiative.”

“Some offenders are now finding themselves sentenced to prison for not completing their Community Work hours, and I applaud the judges who have made these decisions."

"Community Work is still a relatively new sentence, and so far, offenders have worked around 85% of the hours they have been sentenced to. But it is not a soft option, and we will continue to crack down on those who treat it as such."

BACKGROUND NOTES

Statistics

Between 1 July 2002 and 30 June 2003 enforcement by way of court action was initiated against 7,000 offenders subject to Community Work, or its predecessors Periodic Detention and Community Service.

In the first year of Community Work, between 1 July 2002 and 30 June 2003, offenders completed 1,568,710 hours of work for community groups.

Between 1 July and 30 December 2002, a total of 11,227 offenders were sentenced to undertake up to 200 hours of Community Work, equating to 1,376,755 hours of work in total.

All of these offenders should have completed their hours before 30 December 2003 (i.e. within 12 months after they were sentenced). The number of Community Work hours actually served by these offenders was 1,175,455 hours – meaning that 85 percent of the sentenced hours (i.e. the maximum number of hours which had to be worked) were worked.

Court action was taken against 7,224 offenders on Periodic Detention and Community Service in 2000/2001 and 7,702 offenders in 2001/2002.

2003/04 will be the first full year of Community Work without offenders still doing Periodic Detention or Community Service in any quantities. Based on action taken in the first quarter of this financial year, court action will occur with around 6-8,000 non-compliant offenders.

The figures for Community Work are in line with those for the previous sentences of Periodic Detention and Community Service.

Serving a sentence of Community Work

A probation officer assesses each offender, and directs them to complete their hours on an agency placement, at a community work centre, or by a combination of the two.

The probation officer and the offender also agree when the offender will carry out their Community Work hours, taking into account the circumstances of the offender and the availability of suitable work. The offender then receives written instructions to report on the days and times that have been agreed.

If a probation officer is satisfied that the offender has a good record of compliance with their sentence, the probation officer can reduce the total number of hours the offender has to complete, by up to 10 percent.

The type of work that can be undertaken on Community Work is controlled by legislation. Many projects are undertaken including work at educational institutes; care and assistance to elderly; working with district councils on maintenance, development work and graffiti removal; marae and numerous charitable organisations.

If an offender does not serve the sentence satisfactorily

If the offender does not comply with their written instructions to report as agreed, the probation officer will take enforcement action. Enforcement action begins with reminders and verbal warnings, escalating to written warnings and, ultimately, court action.

The court can sentence an offender who fails to report satisfactorily to up to three months’ imprisonment or to a fine of up to $1,000.

Addressing the issues related to the new sentence

There have been some teething problems related to the fact that offenders now have 12 or 24 months to complete a specified number of hours of Community Work, rather than a number of months during which they have to report every week.

Whilst this has allowed flexibility, enabling probation officers to respond to the individual circumstances of offenders, it has also resulted in many offenders not reporting regularly or in accordance with their reporting instructions.

The Community Probation Service is actively working to address these issues. Initiatives to improve regular and early attendance of Community Work include:

Vigorous enforcement and court action. Prison sentences are being handed down to some offenders, as a result.

Home visits and letters to defaulting offenders, reminding them of their obligations and the consequences of not complying.

Planned local initiatives to maximise the number of offenders doing at least eight hours of Community Work each week.

The Department of Corrections will continue to monitor the operation of Community Work over the next 18 months, making operational changes as necessary and liaising with the Ministry of Justice on any key policy or legislative amendments that need to be considered.

The previous regime

Offenders dealt with under the old sentence of Periodic Detention were sentenced to up to 12 months of periodic detention. The offender would usually be required to report to a specified work centre once a week, although the courts could order them to report more frequently. If an offender did not report as directed, the probation officer could require him/her to report more frequently – effectively increasing the number of hours to be worked.

Offenders dealt with under the old sentence of Community Service were sentenced to up to 200 hours of suitable authorised service, to be completed under the supervision of an authorised sponsor.

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