A range of restorative justice methods – including a form of community courts as an alternative to custodial sentences – are to be implemented by the end of the year.
In a bid to alleviate the pressure on the country's straining prison system, the justice minister has given the go-ahead to the probation service to introduce a scheme to test a range of restorative interventions for offenders.
For over 12 months in 2007 and 2008, the National Commission on Restorative Justice examined the benefits of a victim-centred system that would aim to reduce offending by influencing the attitudes and behaviour of offenders.
Headed by district court judge Mary Martin, it presented its report to the justice minister in 2008. The commission explored the concept of community courts and recommended that restorative justice models be developed at a national level.
It also recommended the expansion of existing criminal justice programmes, such as family conferencing, formal cautioning and community service.
Dermot Ahern has confirmed the probation service will be introducing a major new restorative justice scheme.
"The Probation Service will be introducing a scheme before the end of this year to test a range of restorative interventions for adult offenders based on the recommendations contained in the report. This will enable my department to evaluate what role such interventions might play having regard to overall effectiveness, potential, and value-for-money considerations," he said.
At present, two restorative justice projects are in place – in Nenagh, Co Tipperary, and Tallaght, Dublin. "The new scheme will involve an expansion of these two projects," Ahern said.
The Probation Service is to monitor, oversee, and evaluate the implementation of the new scheme.