Restorative justice trialled as alternative to short jail terms
More intensive community service stints and restorative justice options are being trialled in Northern Ireland as an alternative to short terms in jail.
As part of the beefed-up community orders, offenders could be forced to have face-to-face meetings with their victims or write letters of apology.
Those guilty of offences that would carry a jail sentence of 12 months or less will be assessed by probation officers as to their suitability for the option. Judges will ultimately decide whether to impose the new Enhanced Combination Order (ECO) or not.
The Probation Board for Northern Ireland (PBNI) has developed the orders, which focus on rehabilitation, reparation, restorative practice and prevention of reoffending.
They will be piloted from the start of October in the Court Divisions of Armagh/South Down and Ards.
Northern Ireland's Lord Chief Justice, Sir Declan Morgan had asked for the probation authorities to draw up the new model.
"Earlier this year a Criminal Justice Issues Group event brought together a range of organisations to consider the strategic issues involved in moving towards the greater use of community sentences," he said.
"This generated a useful debate and confirmed that there was support across the justice organisations for such a model. Following this event, I invited the Probation Board for Northern Ireland to consider how this type of community alternative might work in practice, and I am pleased to report that as a result of this engagement, they will now be piloting this new community disposal."
Stormont Justice Minister David Ford added: "The Enhanced Combination Order is one of a number of positive developments currently under way which have the potential to improve the effectiveness of our criminal justice system, and are being supported and informed by the involvement of the judiciary working in close partnership with others."
PBNI acting director Cheryl Lamont said: "The aim of the Enhanced Combination Order is to bring together elements of community supervision such as community service and restorative justice, with a greater emphasis on victim engagement and judicial oversight.
"We know probation works in reducing reoffending and making communities safer. This order will help prevent reoffending by rehabilitating offenders."
The Probation Board will work with partners including the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) and Victim Support throughout the duration of the pilot.