A PILOT scheme operating in Banbridge for offenders who may otherwise go to prison has been extended until February 2013.
The scheme has been running across the area serviced by the Newry Court Service for the past year and involves provision of work placements for people who have defaulted on fines.
Banbridge District Council’s ‘bring and buy’ Restore shop on the Scarva Road has been involved in the scheme introduced by Justice Minister David Ford who this week described initial results as “encouraging”.
The scheme, which is administered by the Probation Board for Northern Ireland (PBNI), gives courts a community-based alternative for non-payment of a fine rather than a prison term for individuals subject to Supervised Activity Orders.
Restore opened in June 2009 at the council’s recycling centre, with the aim of reinventing and then selling on large, unwanted household furniture items and electrical goods normally destined for landfill.
Banbridge councillors recently hosted a visit for Criminal Justice chiefs to show the work being undertaken as part of the pilot which has since been expanded to cover the Lisburn area.
Director of PBNI, Brian McCaughey, who visited the Restore shop, praised the scheme which he said allowed offenders to contribute to their communities through voluntary work.
“Supervised Activity Orders benefit the individual and the community, decreasing the use of custody for fine default,” he said. “This will lead to a reduction in prison costs in the long term and communities can directly reflect the benefits of offenders’ contributions through voluntary work.
“We in probation know that community sentences are an effective disposal - three out of four people who complete community service do not re-offend in one year.”
Sue McAllister, Director General of the Northern Ireland Prison Service (NIPS), added, “It is interesting and valuable to see Supervised Activity Orders at work on the ground. The Minister has announced that the initial results from the pilot are encouraging and it has been extended to February 2013, as well as a further pilot announced in the Lisburn area.”
A spokesperson for the PBNI stressed that those subject to Supervised Activity Orders were on the lower end of the criminal scale, with offences linked to non-payment of parking or television licence fines.
“The offences are on the lower end of the scale, but the scheme gives offenders a chance to pay something back to their community, rather than face prison for a short period of time when there would be little chance of rehabilitation due to the time-scale involved,” she said.