Page last updated at 16:01 GMT, Thursday, 13 December 2012

Justice Committee

The Justice Committee was briefed on the minister's plans to encourage community sentences to be given instead of short prison stays, on 13 December 2012.

Department of Justice official Gareth Johnston said a review exploring the role of community sentences in Northern Ireland found they were "particularly effective in breaking the cycle of repeat offending".

"75% of those given probation orders or community service orders do not go on to re-offend within a year of their conviction," he said.

He added that 40% of those given short sentences did.

Mr Johnston also said that community sentences cost the tax payer considerably less.

The official appeared before the committee to inform members of the department's revised approach to such sentences.

He explained that the committee and the executive had raised concerns with Justice Minister David Ford's initial proposal that community sentences should be the preferred method of dealing with offenders who would otherwise receive short sentences of up to three months.

The official said some were worried that the proposals led to the presumption that the minister was against custody, that the plans could possibly interfere with judicial discretion and could be viewed as "soft on offending".

Mr Johnston explained that Mr Ford had presented a compromise and would seek to amend existing law to ensure that community sentences "should be explored".

He said the judges would then be able make their own sentencing decisions.

Justice committee membership


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