The sentencing of Kampala pastors Solomon Male, Robert Kayiira and Martin Sempa to community service for defaming of fellow Pastor Robert Kayanja has brought the community service sentence into the limelight.
Community service might entail digging a ditch, picking up litter, or speaking to high school students about the dangers of drunk driving and underage drinking.
The goals of community service are to restore the community, increase the offender’s ability to attain or maintain gainful employment, and to rehabilitate the criminal.
Some Members of the Sixth Parliament were hesitant to enact the Community law but its implementation has reduced the numbers of prisoners in custody.
The legislators then thought the community service form of punishment was less punitive and would let offenders laughing out of courts of law.
Studies by the Justice Law and Order Sector however indicate the award of community services orders has decreased prison population, along with the cost of keeping people locked up.
The 2011/2012 Justice Law and Order report says the prisons would have had over 8,000 more prisoners if community service order had not been issued by courts.
Paul Gadenya, the Justice Law and Order Technical Manager, says community service is gradually taking root across the country with many of the offenders providing services beneficial to communities.
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The Community Service Act passed in Parliament in 2000 provides for intermediate sanction to offenders instead of jail for minor and non-violent offenses.
Pastor Male of Arising for Christ Ministries speaking from Mulago hospital where he is counselling women patients said he is happy that the sentence has enabled him to work in place where he can connect with the suffering.
Pastor Male says apart from serving his 100 hours of Community services, he is learning about many things including what goes on at the country’s major hospital.
He says he is building networks that benefit him personally and professionally as a pastor.
Meanwhile Gadenya says the Justice Law and Order Sector is leaning from the Community services experience is considering pushing for a reform in law to enable the sentencing of prisoners at their homes.
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He says people tend to learn how to commit more offenses when they are in prison.
Latest statistics indicate that Kampala area had the highest number of offenders sentenced to community service orders with 2746 sentenced.
Eastern region had over 1600 community services offenders. The central region had over 1500 while the West had 1300 and the North had the least community service orders with slightly over 1000 offenders.
Over seven thousand five hundred male offenders are serving on community service. About 800 women were also sentenced to community service. There were however over 11,000 petty offenders still in prison yet they qualified for community service.