Community work setup slammed

JIMMY ELLINGHAM
Last updated 07:24 08/01/2013

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A judge has criticised the Department of Corrections for not allowing an offender to perform community work during the weekend, which effectively meant the department – not the judge – was determining the man’s sentence.

Judge Gerard Lynch voiced his concerns in Taihape when Carl Denny, 34, appeared last month in the town’s district court for breaching a community work sentence.

Denny, who will be sentenced for that next week, told the court he failed to appear at community work because he was busy doing his real job.

His situation has since been resolved and he is now doing his community work.

However, at his last appearance, the court heard the work only happens in Taihape on a Wednesday.

‘‘I can’t go on Wednesday because I’ve got work,’’ Denny said.

‘‘And I can’t do it on Saturdays in Marton because I can’t drive.’’

Marton is 71 kilometres away.

Judge Lynch asked Corrections officer Kevin Webby why community work was not available in Taihape.

Mr Webby cited tight budgets and said it was directed from the department’s Whanganui office and they would not send a supervisor and a vehicle for just one or two people.

Judge Lynch was unimpressed and said the Whanganui office was taking away sentencing options.

‘‘Community work is not just for unemployed people,’’ the judge said.

‘‘The probation service is driving sentencing, not the courts. Why should [Denny] have to wear an electronic anklet when he could be doing community work?

‘‘That’s a breach of rights and privacy. I really don’t think it’s right for a small community to be punished in this way.’’

Away from court, Corrections spokeswoman Matire Kupenga-Wanoa said community work was available at the weekend in Taihape, but there was presently ‘‘no requirement for a Saturday reporting day’’.

That decision took into account offender numbers, their employment situation and available agencies for the work, Ms Kupenga-Wanoa said.

Corrections agreed with Judge Lynch’s concerns that community work should not be only for offenders who don’t have a job.

‘‘This is why the initial assessment an offender undertakes before beginning community work is important.’’

Denny missed that assessment.

‘‘This offender’s probation officer took his employment commitments into consideration when completing an assessment after his court appearance, and he is now completing his community work outside of his employment,’’ Ms Kupenga-Wanoa said.

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- Manawatu Standard

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