Community Service Orders (CSOs) have become an increasingly popular sentencing option in New South Wales courts, as they obligate offenders to perform work in the community as an alternative to imposing stricter judicial remedies or sanctions. Research by the Australian Institute of Criminology has indicated that community sentencing has a much higher likelihood of rehabilitating criminal offenders, because it punishes them through restrictions on their time and liberty, as well as encouraging them to reform their behaviour. Community Service Orders have also proven to be cost-effective for the authorities, as they are relatively cheap to administer in contrast to imprisonment, while simultaneously enabling offenders to make reparations for harm committed in the local community.
The legislation in New South Wales
The main legislation governing Community Service Orders in New South Wales is part 5 of the Crimes (Administration of Sentences) Act 1999 (NSW) and part 7 of the Crimes (Sentencing Procedure) Act 1999 (NSW), which provide that anyone who has committed an offence punishable by imprisonment, may instead be sentenced by a court to community service. Under section 8(2) of the Crimes (Sentencing Procedure) Act 1999 (NSW), the duration for a Community Service Order for an offence must not exceed 500 hours, or the number of hours prescribed by the regulations in respect to that offence. However, clause 22 of the Crimes (Sentencing Procedure) Regulation 2005 (NSW) lists the maximum hours that may be imposed in a Community Service Order, according to the maximum term of imprisonment applicable to the offender. A Community Service Order cannot be more than:
- 100 hours, where the maximum term of imprisonment does not exceed six months.
- 200 hours, where the maximum term of imprisonment is more than six months but less than twelve months.
- 500 hours, where the maximum term of imprisonment exceeds twelve months
Furthermore, offenders are restricted from performing more than eight hours of community service work in one day or participating in a development program for more than five hours in one day, unless previously agreed to by the offender and the assigned officer. Offenders may also be required by the courts to undergo mandatory alcohol or drug-testing, or to attend counseling programs such as Anger Management. The type of community work undertaken includes a broad range of activities, such as painting, cleaning and repairing services for pensioners or community groups, as well as rubbish removal, ground maintenance and bush regeneration projects.
Considerations in making a Community Service Order
Section 86 of the Crimes (Sentencing Procedure) Act 1999 (NSW) lists the criteria that must be considered by the courts when determining the suitability of an offender for a Community Service Order. The court must be satisfied that:
(a) the offender is a suitable person for community service work
(b) it is appropriate in all of the circumstances that the offender be required to perform community service work
(c) arrangements exist in the area in which the offender resides or intends to reside for the offender to perform community service work, and
(d) community service work can be provided in accordance with those arrangements.
The court may also take into account the contents of any assessment report on the offender, as well as any other evidence provided by the NSW Probation and Parole Service.
Breaches of a Community Service Order
The courts treat very seriously any breaches of Community Service Orders by offenders, because they believe allowing such breaches to persist risks undermining their legitimacy as a sentencing option to the wider community. If an offender fails to complete the community services hours ordered by the court within the set time period, the NSW Probation and Parole Service may advise the court and a summons may be issued for the offender to address the failure. If the court finds that there has been a breach as a result of the offender failing to comply with the Community Service Order, it may completely revoke the order and resentence the offender for the original offence. While doing so, the court must take into account that they were previously subject to an order, and it may also take into account any time already served in custody for the offence.
If you have any questions about Community Service Orders or just need any further information, please contact us.
Aston Legal Solicitors and Barristers
111 Elizabeth Street
Sydney NSW 2000