CRIMS ON EASY STREET

Ex­clu­sive: COVID freeze on com­mu­nity ser­vice

The Daily Telegraph (Sydney) - - Front Page - JANET FIFE-YEO­MANS & JAMES O’DO­HERTY

IN­STEAD of mow­ing hos­pi­tal lawns and dig­ging pub­lic gar­dens, hun­dreds of con­victed crim­i­nals have been able to kick back at home with the com­mu­nity ser­vice work pro­gram put on hold be­cause of COVID-19. The free pass came even as lawyers re­minded mag­is­trates of the sus­pended scheme.

IN­STEAD of mow­ing hos­pi­tal lawns and dig­ging pub­lic gar­dens, hun­dreds of con­victed crim­i­nals have been able to put their feet up with the com­mu­nity ser­vice work pro­gram put on hold be­cause of COVID-19.

The mon­u­men­tal stuff-up oc­curred even though lawyers re­minded mag­is­trates and judges that the scheme had been sus­pended dur­ing the pan­demic. But the courts have con­tin­ued to sen­tence de­fen­dants to com­mu­nity ser­vice work they could not im­me­di­ately carry out.

Cor­rec­tive Ser­vices Min­is­ter An­thony Roberts yes­ter­day re­vealed it meant some of­fend­ers will never have to com­plete their sen­tences.

“Un­for­tu­nately, due to COVID-19 and the stay-ath­ome or­ders, of­fend­ers al­ready on com­mu­nity ser­vice work or­ders were un­able to com­plete their hours,” he said.

“This is a big sec­ond chance. They should have served time, but be­cause of COVID they haven’t done it.

“My best ad­vice to those peo­ple is that if you’ve got away with­out serv­ing your com­mu­nity be­cause of COVID I wouldn’t be com­ing back be­fore a mag­is­trate or a judge.

“If they come back a sec­ond time, for a sec­ond of­fence, with­out hav­ing served their com­mu­nity ser­vice be­cause of COVID, they might find them­selves serv­ing some time in Her Majesty’s prisons rather mow­ing lawns.”

Of­fend­ers are usu­ally given 12 months to com­plete their com­mu­nity ser­vice and if they had not done so be­fore the pro­gram was halted on March 23 and their time ran out be­fore the pro­gram was re­in­stated late last month, then they can put their feet up.

Oth­ers placed on a com­mu­nity ser­vice or­der dur­ing those five months will only have to serve a pro­por­tion of their hours on a pro rata ba­sis, the gov­ern­ment con­firmed.

“Com­mu­nity ser­vice or­ders are not an easy op­tion, they are meant to be taken very se­ri­ously,” vic­tims’ ad­vo­cate Howard Brown said.

“The scheme was work­ing quite well be­cause it was keep­ing them busy and most of the work was di­rected to­wards their of­fend­ing be­hav­iour so them not do­ing the com­mu­nity ser­vice as­pect gives them free time and as my par­ish priest used to day, an idle mind is the devil’s play­ground.”

Among those sen­tenced to CSOs dur­ing the shut­down is for­mer Wal­la­bies player Brett Shee­han, 40, who was or­dered in April by Manly Lo­cal Court to com­plete 100 hours of com­mu­nity ser­vice as part of a oneyear bond im­posed af­ter he choked his wife Laura Shee­han at their Syd­ney home.

In March, busi­ness­man Simon Lee, 46, from Rose Bay, pleaded guilty to mid-range drink-driv­ing and was or­dered to com­plete 100 hours of com­mu­nity ser­vice work as part of his sen­tence.

Brett Shee­han.

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