Community work is no soft option for offenders

The eleventh of several parts relating to our Justice System

Is community work imposed because there are not enough prisons? Do offenders actually do the community work they are sentenced to (we never see them cleaning streets or toilets). Is community service properly supervised and is it working?

There are enough prisons in New Zealand.

Community work is not a soft option.

It is imposed by some Judges, whereas other Judges might impose a prison sentence. That is the nature of Judges; they are individual. But all Judges operate under guidelines as mentioned previously.

Community work is an alternative to the more serious losses of liberty through sentences such a prison, home detention, community detention. It is important to realise that community work is often combined with other sentences such as supervision, intensive supervision or home detention.

Judicial monitoring

Community work can also be combined with judicial monitoring. For example, if the Judge has some concerns about a certain offender, supervision can be put in place for the next 18 months, involving three-monthly reports.

If the offender does not do the community work or meet with the probation officer or attend the required courses, then they will have to appear again in court. At that time, the Judge may look at imposing a prison sentence, or they may be given a chance to complete the community work or courses. That is monitored, and if progress is made, the Judge may convict and discharge them for the breach of community work.

Some alternatives

Offenders are not let off completing community work. There are some options where community work can be changed into attending courses. The point is to try to keep people in the community and to make a difference to enable them to make changes.

The premise behind community work is to allow the offender to restore the harm he or she has caused to the community. The community has suffered because of the offender’s conduct and the sentence of community work seeks to remedy that.

Community work often takes place on Saturdays, but also during the week. Recently, teams have completed community work in the gardens of a retirement home in Mt Albert, and motorway planting.

Restorative justice

Victims have the opportunity to attend a Restorative Justice conference, which is run by a professional facilitator. Attendance is not compulsory, but it is an option, which courts offer to victims of every type of crime. Reparation is often agreed to in the form of payments or voluntary community work. It has been found that offenders usually genuinely want to make amends.

It is desirable to have Restorative Justice Facilitators representing all ethnic communities. Currently there are 11 Asian facilitators under training.

For more information, visit www.corrections.govt.nz

The above is the response given by the judges of the Auckland District Court at their ‘Community Day’ held at Fickling Convention Centre on September 24, 2012. The Editor of this newspaper was present at the meeting and the responses of the judges to a number of questions are published in a series. The responses are reproduced verbatim, as given by the judges. The first eight parts appeared in our past issues from November 15, 2012. Read another question and answer elsewhere in this issue.

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