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Background: In Ireland, under the Criminal Justice (Community Service) 1983 Act, a community service order (CSO) must only be imposed if a custodial sentence has first been considered. In 2011, an amendment to the 1983 Act was made, requiring courts to consider imposing CSOs as alternatives to prison sentences of less than one year. This amendment sought to address the underutilisation of community service, decrease the number of short-term committals, and benefit offenders and communities. Methodology: Administrative data from the Irish Prison and Probation Services pertaining to all cases sentenced to a short-term of imprisonment or CSO between 2011 and 2012, were linked with criminal history and re-arrest data from An Garda Síochána, and comparative analysis conducted. Qualitative interviews with CSO recipients and short-term prisoners were also completed (n = 21). The aims of this analysis were: to investigate the use of CSOs as alternatives to short prison sentences; to compare offender perceptions and experiences of completing these alternative criminal justice sanctions; and to examine comparative recidivism outcomes, using a matched sample approach. Results: In Ireland the CSO is operating as a non-custodial alternative in only some cases. A large proportion of first-time offenders received community service. Those convicted of a drug offence were more likely to receive a CSO, suggesting up-tariffing in some of these cases. Interview participants did not considered the CSO as truly interchangeable with imprisonment, but as a sanction for those considered redeemable. Further, it seems judges operate in a punitive safe space when imposing CSOs. A null effect was detected when re-arrest outcomes for CSOs and short terms of imprisonment were compared. Conclusions: Enhancements in policy, practice, and research are required if reforms aimed at decreasing the use of imprisonment are to be successfully introduced, and community service considered an acceptable substitute to imprisonment.
O'Hara, K. (2016) Examining the comparative use, experience, and outcomes of community service orders as alternatives to short prison sentences in Ireland. Thesis submitted in fulfilment of the requirements for the award of Doctor of Philosophy to Technological University Dublin, April 2016. doi:10.21427/D7MG6W