Community service could replace minor jail sentences



ABU DHABI // A proposal to allow community service instead of jail time and fines for minor offences was approved yesterday by the UAE Cabinet. Officials said the policy would benefit both the community and the country's jails and prisons. The draft law was approved by the Cabinet yesterday. While the details could not be obtained before press time, the state news agency, WAM, said community service would be "an alternative for minor offences". The draft law is expected to be submitted to the Federal National Council (FNC), which could propose changes.

As the draft law is debated by the council, it will become more evident what minor offences would be covered. Khaled Hamad BoShehab, a member of the FNC's internal affairs and defence committee, said: "It's better than putting someone in prison because being in jail is a humiliating experience, not only for the persons but also for their families. "The community looks down on people who go to prison, even if it was for a small felony, let alone the psychological effects on the person. Imagine someone who has children in school and ends up in prison for a minor offence."

For example, he said, a crime such as entering a nature reserve by mistake, should not result in imprisonment, he said. "The idea is to educate and discipline the individual What are we going to benefit from putting a well-behaved person in prison for two months?" The proposal would require approval of the Supreme Council, made up of the rulers of the seven emirates, to become law. The internal affairs and defence committee could also suggest changes when it sees the draft law, and members of legislative and legal affairs committee may be consulted. "The committees will discuss the law from the judicial, security, psychological and human rights aspects," Mr BoShehab said.

The idea of community service was welcomed by the manager of Abu Dhabi's Corrections and Prison Administration. "This would be a positive step for the community," said Brig Yousef al Ahmed. "It will require an offender to give back something to the community. Of course, this will only work in minor cases where the person doesn't pose a threat to the society." myoussef@thenational.ae mhabboush@thenational.ae

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