Fri, Jul 10, 2009 - Page 4 News List

Community service proposal approved

OPTIONS Under current regulations, some prison terms can be swapped for fines. Soon misdemeanor offenders will be able to opt for community service

By Shih Hsiu-chuan  /  STAFF REPORTER

The Cabinet yesterday approved a proposal to allow short prison sentences for misdemeanors to be swapped for community service.

Misdemeanor offenders sentenced to six months or less will have the option of doing community service instead, swapping each day of imprisonment for six hours of community service.

Under current regulations, some short prison terms can already be swapped for fines. The Ministry of Justice said in its proposal that 41 percent of offenders sentenced to terms of less than six months that can be swapped for fines chose to pay the fines.

The ministry suggested that the percentage was not higher because many could not afford to pay the fines. Adding a community service option would prevent an inequitable system in which poorer violators are more likely to serve prison time.

Premier Liu Chao-shiuan (劉兆玄) was quoted by Government Information Office Minister Su Jun-pin (蘇俊賓) as saying that the program, scheduled to start in September, would “create a win-win-win situation.”

Su said the program was positive because short prison terms are not long enough for rehabilitation and because swapping jail time for community service would enable prisoners to continue caring for their families. The program will also ease overcrowding in prisons, he said.

Liu asked the ministry to conduct thorough reviews of all applications for the program. The option will not be given to those who have been handed heavy fines for financial crimes or convicted of serious violations of gun and weapon laws.

Those who choose to serve community service may be asked to work on environmental cleanup projects, help maintain orderly traffic flow or contribute to other public services.

The ministry said in the proposal that the crime rate had been on the rise in recent years, leading to a shortage of prison cells.

The community service program would ease overcrowding because more than half of recent convicts are misdemeanor violators, it said.

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