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CICAD/OAS Group of Experts in Demand Reduction Buenos Aires, October 2003. Alternatives to Custodial Sentencing for young offenders: the experience in Belize. Ornel Brooks Belize National Drug Abuse Control Council (NDACC ). Alternatives to Custodial Sentencing.

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CICAD/OAS Group of Experts

in Demand Reduction

Buenos Aires, October 2003

Alternatives to Custodial Sentencing for young offenders:the experience in Belize

Ornel Brooks

Belize National Drug Abuse Control Council


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Alternatives to Custodial Sentencing

Why keep offenders out of jail?

  • Rise of Prison Populations (Belize, Caribbean)

    • Overcrowding, poor conditions

    • Filled with young people, and poor who cannot pay fines for minor crimes

  • Criminal behavior & drug use learned behind bars

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Alternatives to Custodial Sentencing

Why keep offenders out of jail?

  • Taking 1st-time offenders out of their community makes re-entry more difficult

    • Social stigma- they get branded as criminals

    • Lose ties to family, school, employment

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History in Belize

Late 1980s: Looking for options

  • By 1986, Belize’s Chief Justice recognized the need for alternatives as response to prison overcrowding

  • Concept of non-custodial sentencing slowly gains momentum

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History in Belize

1st try with Sentencing Alternatives: 1990-1994

  • Strategy: Expand role of probation

  • Ultimately did not work

    • No legislation

    • Only had partial support from judicial sector

    • Lack of inter-agency cooperation

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History in Belize

2ndtry with Sentencing Alternatives: 1996-1999

  • Now backed by legislation in the new Criminal Justice Act (1996)

    • Magistrates empowered to issue Community Service Orders, ‘‘CSOs’’

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History in Belize

2ndtry with Sentencing Alternatives: 1996-1999

  • 2nd try failed due to:

    • No monitoring of offender

    • Implementing agency (court officials) overburdened

    • No established implementation mechanism

    • Lack of training for professionals involved

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  • 3rd Try - 2001 Penal System Reform Act

  • (Alternative Sentences) passed

  • Establishes support system:

    • National Committee on Community Service (NCCS)

    • A separate Alternatives to Custody Department: Community Rehabilitation Department (CRD)

    • District Committees on Community Service (DCCS)

  • Amends previous acts, specifying eligibility

  • Broadens scope of which courts can issue CSOs, including family court, juvenile court

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Community Rehabilitation Department

  • Under the Ministry of Human Development, Women and Children and Civil Society

  • Primary focus:

    • rehabilitation of offenders

    • diversion of offenders from custodial care

    • oversee probationers

    • assuring a continuum of care through the community service process

    • social reinsertion

    • prevent recidivism

  • Coordinates the District Committees on Community Service (DCCS) established under the Alternative Sentences Act

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  • Made up of a cadre of concerned individuals from various sectors of the community:

    • Chief Magistrate, Supreme Court Judge, & Family Court magistrate

    • Chief Prosecutor

    • Superintendant of Prisons

    • Police Commissioner

    • Director of the Community Rehabilitation Department

    • Ministry of municipal governments

    • Ministry of Health

    • Ministry of Education

    • Ministry of Youth

    • NGO nominee

    • Private sector nominee

    • University of Belize

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  • Tasked to assist the Community Rehabilitation Department in:

    • monitoring the development of community service orders

    • management of cases through the system

    • Re-insertion of offenders in the community

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  • 2001 Penal System Reform Act

  • (Alternative Sentences)

Types of offences eligible for alternatives:

  • Theft

  • Minor drug possession

  • Common assault

  • 1st offence for drug use

  • The Juvenile Offenders Act has increased the work of the court as all persons under 18 must be considered for alternatives (for all offenses)

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  • 2001 Penal System Reform Act

  • (Alternative Sentences)

This is NOT for:

  • Drug dealers

  • Drug traffickers

  • Murderers

  • Rapists

  • Repeat offenders

  • Major crimes

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  • 2001 Penal System Reform Act

  • (Alternative Sentences)

Alternatives to custodial sentencing that are available to the court:

  • Discharge the offender

  • Pass a suspended sentence

  • Issue a community service order

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  • 2001 Penal System Reform Act

  • (Alternative Sentences)

  • KEY: courts can sentence a drug offender to rehabilitation services in the community (or in cases where custodial sentence cannot be avoided, the offender can be sentenced to rehabilitative service in prison)

  • Act provides that the court may make a combination order:

    • a combination of one or more community service orders (CSO)

    • a CSO and a fine or a custodial sentence

    • can include provisions to attend substance abuse counselling, resume schooling, etc.

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Community Rehabilitation Officer (CRO)

The CRO works locally with:

  • Drug council officers/counselors

  • Education officers/teachers

  • Family members

  • Counseling services

  • Police

  • Magistrates

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Elements for Success

  • Once it is decided by the court to make a CSO the Magistrate or Judge then has to rely on the Community Rehabilitation Officer, who has the legal responsibility to properly supervise an offender

  • In order for the CRO to succeed he has to work with the Police and other relevant agencies such as National Drug Abuse Control Council with the ultimate goal being that of rehabilitation and reinsertion


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District Committees on Community Service


  • Operating in all 6 districts

  • Each DCCS is made up of:

    • one salaried Community Rehabilitation Officer (CRO) (3 in Belize City)

    • the NDACC officer in each district

    • police

    • education

    • social service providers

    • volunteer community workers

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  • National Training Seminars

    • to sensitize the public and essential players of the Penal System Reform Act and its legal significance

    • to create national awareness on the merits of the Community Service Order

    • Held in June and August 2003

    • funded by UNICEF and the OAS respectively.

    • Participants: National Committee, District Committee, Magistrates, police officers, prosecutors, CROs, educators, and other community service providers

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  • Community Service Handbook

    • An operational manual for the implementation of the Penal System Reform Act, in a collaborative role with the CRD

    • It is also a handbook to train public officials, NGOs, and other community service providers

    • Supported by UNICEF

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Elements for Success

  • Community service ensures punishment for an offence in a way that serves the community’s need and at the same time the rehabilitation of the offender

  • Eligibility depends on:

    • The magistrate or judge’s decision

    • type and nature of the offence

    • availability of appropriate community service placement

    • suitability of the offender for a CSO- which is obtained from the pre-sentencing social report prepared by the CRO for the court

    • consent of the offender to the CSO

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  • In all 6 districts, judges are now handing out significantly more CSOs than probation/suspended sentences, favouring CSOs up to 40:1

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Next Steps

  • Continued training on the district level is needed to prepare key players

  • Opportunities for community service placement require formal agreements between local agencies

  • Regional cooperation is needed to enable sharing of best practices in Alternative (Non-Custodial) Sentencing