In this short blog post, I will set out some of my thoughts on the Integrated CSO that is being piloted in Ireland. Unfortunately, to date, there has been very little information put out into the public domain about the sanction and how it is operating. While the Probation Service have indicated that there will be an evaluation of the pilot scheme, according to the Penal Policy Implementation Oversight Group (fifth report) this has yet to be done. My thoughts are, therefore, based primarily on the potential of the concept rather than the actual operation of the sanction and should be read with this in mind.
The Existing CSO
The standard Community Service Order (CSO) that currently operates in Ireland is designed to be punitive and to be symbolically reparative. It punishes offenders through the deprivation of their leisure time and allows for symbolic reparation through the performance of unpaid work in the community. While it is hoped that offenders will benefit from completing a CSO, the sanction itself is not designed to be rehabilitative and rehabilitation is not a primary objective of the CSO (Guilfoyle, 2017).
In 2014, the Penal Policy Review Group published a comprehensive review of Penal Policy in Ireland (Dept. of Justice and Equality, 2014). In their report they recommended, amongst many other things, that the Probation Service should examine the feasibility of introducing, on a pilot basis, an integrated CSO where community service could be imposed with additional conditions such as drug addiction treatment or restriction on movement orders (Dept. of Justice and Equity, 2014, 49). This is an approach that is used in jurisdictions such as England and Wales; Scotland; and Northern Ireland. The Probation Service took the recommendation on board and in 2016 began piloting an Integrated CSO in a number of locations. The pilot scheme which was initiated, however, is somewhat different from what was originally recommended in the Penal Policy Review Group’s report. Instead of allowing for additional conditions to be attached to a CSO by a judge, the Integrated CSO that is being piloted allows for a probation officer to grant an offender permission to spend up to one third of their CSO hours in an education, training or treatment programme.
Some of the potential benefits of the Integrated CSO over the existing CSO and over the approach that has been taken in neighbouring jurisdictions
The Integrated CSO, for the first time, incorporates rehabilitation into the CSO in a meaningful way. As well as performing unpaid work in the community, it allows offenders to address some of their criminogenic needs or learn new skills, if they so wish. It also makes the CSO more flexible and capable of being tailored to individual offenders. Not only can it do all of the above but it can do so in a way that avoids the significant problem of ‘requirement stacking’ which has arisen in other jurisdictions (Salomon and Silvestri, 2008; Mair et al, 2007). This is where judges attach numerous requirements to community sanctions which ultimately make them more punitive and more difficult to successfully complete. The design of the Integrated CSO removes the possibility of stacking occurring. Instead of adding on additional requirements to a CSO, the Integrated CSO subtracts the time an offender spends participating in a programme from their overall community service hours.
There are also other potential advantages that the Integrated CSO could have over the approach of adding on requirements. Firstly, the design of the Integrated CSO is more conducive to offenders successfully completing educational or rehabilitative programmes and benefiting from participating in them. It moves away from the idea of forcing offenders to attend programmes and instead encourages them to participate, then supports and rewards them if they do so. Secondly, it has the potential to have a significantly lower breach rate. The greatest reduction would likely occur if the Integrated CSO operates in a way whereby an offender failing to complete an educational, training or treatment programme does not cause the entire sanction to be breached but only causes the rehabilitative element of the sanction to be breached. Therefore, instead of the offender being returned to court to be re-sentenced, they would simply be required to carry out all of their outstanding CSO hours doing unpaid work in the community. It is only if they fail to comply with this, would they be in breach of the entire sanction. This would not only reduce the rate that offenders are returned to court for breach of the sanction but would also allow for offenders to address their needs or learn new skills without the fear that they will be returned to court, and possibly imprisoned, if they do not immediately succeed in doing so.
It is important to note that many jurisdictions around the world have attempted to combine rehabilitation and community service using a variety of different methods. Regardless of the method used, there is a common issue that is present in practically every jurisdiction. That is, the negative impact that insufficient treatment services or educational/training programmes have on the rehabilitative abilities of community sanctions. The takeaway from this is that there is little point in making legislative or procedural changes that provide for rehabilitation to be incorporated into sanctions, if the rehabilitative services are not available when needed to allow for the sanctions to operate as reformers intended. It is clear that treatment, training and educational programmes are a vital component of the Integrated CSO and so in order for the sanction to successfully operate nationally, these programmes would need to be available nationwide. This is no easy feat and for it to be achieved it would likely need more than just the buy in of the Probation Service. It is difficult to see how it could be done without wider government support and investment.
There is still so much we do not know about the Integrated CSO and how it operates. In the absence of an evaluation of the pilot scheme or some additional data, it is difficult to properly assess the Integrated CSO or to reach any definite conclusions about the sanction at this stage. However, from what we do know about the Integrated CSO, my early impression is that this is an extremely positive development and with a lot of potential.
Eoin Guilfoyle, Ph.D. Candidate, Centre for Crime, Justice and Victim Studies, School of Law, UL.