Alternative punishment, such as court-mandated community service, is a more effective way to help first-time offenders in minor cases than to send them to jail, Abu Dhabi Police said.
Since regulations were introduced in 2016, judges in the UAE have handed out community service time to correct anti-social thinking and behaviour.
The new federal law approved community service as an alternative punishment and in 2017, 19 categories of work were listed as service.
In an interview with local channel Emarat TV, Maj Abdulrahman Al Shibli, head of Community Service Measures at Abu Dhabi Police, said such judgments are for the benefit of the public.
“Community service can range from a period of seven days to three months, based on the order of the judge,” he said.
It can range from working at petrol stations to sweeping the streets.
During the pandemic, offenders were also sent to hospitals, and Covid-19 testing and vaccination centres to work with volunteers.
“When we went on field visits we saw them working with volunteers, side by side. You could not differentiate between them,” Maj Al Shibli said.
An anonymous offender spoke of his time serving at a mosque.
“I was able to juggle between my work and the community service time. I would have lost my job if I had been sentenced to jail,” he said.
“And if I had lost my job, I would have lost my family.
“I was afraid of the court ruling and how that would reflect on my work and family, but thank God I was sentenced to community service at the house of God.”
Hadeya Al Hammadi, a lawyer in Abu Dhabi, said many of her clients were asked to serve the community and wear electronic tracking devices instead of being sent to jail.
In 2016, an amendment made to the penal code’s Article 369 introduced house arrest, which can be e-tracked as another alternative to serving time in jail.
“The new alternatives were the best solution to guarantee that a simple offender does not turn into a criminal,” Ms Al Hammadi said.
“When a member of the community is rooted in prison with criminals, he is likely to get influenced by them.
“And once inmates are released they often track one another.”
Ms Al Hammadi said she knows of inmates who got “too used to life in prison” and found it difficult to become a part of society after their release.
“They became like a fish pulled out of the sea,” she said.
“Someone who is used to life with his family and the community and has committed a simple first-time offence will learn discipline by serving at a mosque or park and without having to experience prison life.”
She said police monitor offenders who have been sentenced to community service programmes.
People who serve at the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque work a daily four-hour shift, from 4pm to 8pm, and their detailed work report is sent to the ruling judge.
“I have also seen offenders who have a high school diploma do community service in court. They help customer service clerks enter data into the system, so they are also helping us in our jobs,” she said.
“This punishment is much better than jail. Anyone can make mistakes, so let the punishment justify the mistake.”