A judge has questioned the “reliability” of community work sentences after hearing about the struggles of a North Canterbury man to get a 300-hour sentence done.
Judge Michael Crosbie was also concerned to hear in the Christchurch District Court that Community Probation’s computer system could not give the court accurate information about hours completed.
He was worried that if he jailed James Nolan Dainty, 22, for failing to to meet community work targets he set two weeks ago, he might find the information he used was wrong when the computer system updated itself.
Instead, he accepted that Dainty had been phoned by Community Probation to cancel his community work on two days, and that he had worked some short days because the Rangiora work centre did not have enough work available.
He cancelled Dainty’s outstanding 272 hours, and imposed 300 hours to replace the existing sentence, for breaching the community work, and for a dangerous driving boyracer incident in central Christchurch.
He had earlier adjourned the sentencing for the breach for two weeks to give Dainty a chance to do eight days of community work and make a dent in the 290 hours he still had to do at that stage.
Defence counsel Bridget Murphy said yesterday that Dainty had attended for several days, but two days were cancelled because of the weather, he was sick for two days, and only part days were worked sometimes because enough work was not available at Rangiora. He had completed 18 hours.
The probation officer in court, Peter Mayo, explained that Community Probation was “struggling to find work in some areas”, and there was a shortage of community work supervisors.
He said he would speak to his manager and convey the judge’s comments. Community Probation had regular meetings with the executive judge about the administration of sentences.
Judge Crosbie said he understood that there were sometimes pressures, but community-based sentences “need to have some efficacy and reliability”.
“I am told that the judicial expectation of eight hours work on a day is not always the case. Some days only six hours work is involved and occasionally there is a shortage of community work supervisors.
“I am told elsewhere, that sometimes workers are sent home because there is not work available for them.”
This was not satisfactory because people often took days off their regular work to do community work. It also meant sentences would take a lot longer to complete than the court had envisaged.
He said: “The judiciary should have a clear expectation at the time of imposing a sentence, that the sentence can be adequately resourced by community probation, and that work is available and supervisors are available.
“My experience on a number of occasions is that defendants’ (attendance) may fall short of expectations and that can lead to them becoming frustrated and breaching (the sentence).”
He warned Dainty that he had now had three convictions for breaching the community work sentence, and any other breach could bring a remand in custody and a jail term.
The original sentence was imposed in March for receiving stolen property and driving while suspended.
Dainty admitted dangerous driving for an incident in Moorhouse Avenue where he and another car reached 90km an hour and he overtook a third vehicle on a road’s left shoulder, sending shingle flying. He said the occupants of the other speeding car had threatened to throw bottles and he had sped so the police would pull him over.
Judge Crosbie disqualified him from driving for six months.