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Community Service has a positive impact 20 June 2008

David Sellick - Chief Probation OfficerMORE than 4,000 hours of unpaid work have been completed so far this year by people subject to community service orders. A wide range of projects, including many for local charities, are carried out each year by offenders working under the supervision of the Isle of Man Probation Service.

The programme has been acknowledged as having a positive impact on various aspects of Manx life – providing numerous visible benefits as well as supporting public, private and charitable organisations. Orders are viewed as an effective alternative to prison in certain circumstances, while in other cases offenders may have fines replaced by a set number of community service hours – particularly if they have become unemployed since the original sentence was imposed.

The emphasis is on serving justice and achieving the best possible outcome for all parties. Projects are undertaken that might otherwise not have been tackled, while offenders have been known to gain full-time employment as a direct result of their placements. A great deal of hard work takes place behind the scenes in partnership with other Government agencies and private enterprise in order to achieve such encouraging results.

Chief Probation Officer David Sellick said:

‘Community service sentences imposed by the courts continue to play an important part in the punishment and rehabilitation of offenders. In addition to being a punitive measure, the orders also provide individuals with an opportunity to repay their debt to society in a positive and visible way.’

The Probation Service, which is part of the Department of Home Affairs, employs a dedicated Community Service Officer who is responsible for sourcing and arranging placements. Lynda Watts also supports the courts by ensuring that offenders comply fully with the requirements of their sentences which can vary between 40 and 240 hours.

Before community service orders are imposed, detailed assessments are conducted with offenders to determine their suitability. This process also helps to highlight any personal attributes that can be put to good use or identify a medical condition that may preclude somebody from taking on physically demanding work. Those skills and circumstances are then matched with available projects and offenders will attend either an individual placement or form part of a working group, usually made up of eight people.

Minister for Home Affairs Martyn Quayle MHK said:

‘Community service orders can be an extremely effective option for the courts. In addition to punishing offenders by restricting their liberty, sentences provide individuals with an opportunity to put real benefits back into the community they have offended against.’

Work placements present physical and emotional challenges that can boost self-esteem, improve career prospects, help to prevent repeat offending and generally act as a turning point in people’s lives. The positive influence on the wider community is also without question, according to Lynda Watts.

She said:

‘Numerous local organisations have benefited from the hard work of both our work groups and those on individual placements. Those skills and labour have been put to particularly good use in assisting charities which in itself is a huge and very welcome contribution to our local community. The individual placements mean that smaller scale projects, charities and organisations can benefit from workers helping out on a one-to-one basis. For instance, in charity shops workers can provide clerical assistance and computer skills or perform a more physical role such as helping with furniture collection. The work groups undertake a wide variety of projects and can make a visible difference to areas within the community that might otherwise not receive any attention.’

Offenders are monitored during their work placements to ensure they fulfil the requirements of their sentences. Anybody who fails to comply can be returned to court and dealt with for a breach of the community service order. This can result in a fine in addition to a requirement to complete the remaining hours of the order. Alternatively it can lead to imprisonment in cases where the order was imposed as an alternative to custody.

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