Check against delivery
Speech the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality Frances Fitzgerald TD
at the launch of the
Irish Prison Service and Probation Service Annual Reports 2015
Irish Prison Service Strategic Plan 2016-2018
Monday 27th June 2016
Director of the Probation Service, Director General of the Irish Prison Service, and invited guests.
I am delighted to be with you here today at the publication of the Annual Reports for 2015 of both the Probation Service and the Irish Prison Service, the Irish Prison Service Strategic Plan covering the years 2016 to 2018
and to launch the new websites for both Agencies
I will turn firstly to the 2015 Annual Report for the Probation Service, which sets out the work and the performance of the Agency against the key objectives outlined in the Probation Service Strategy Statement for 2015 to 2017. The report clearly illustrates the enormously valuable rehabilitative work of the Agency with offenders in our communities and with victims of crime.
The Probation Service’s primary objective is to contribute to public safety, through the effective management and assessment of offenders in the community. In 2015, the Probation Service managed almost 15,000 offenders in the community, completed over 12,000 assessment reports and received over 8,400 Court Orders for Probation Service supervision.
Given its role in the community, the Probation Service has a history of working in partnership with a range of community based organisations. Many Probation Service clients lead chaotic lives and have complex needs such as addiction, which I will mention again later, as well as mental health issues, homelessness and social disadvantage. The Probation Service recognises that it cannot address all of these needs alone.
The importance of community involvement in preventing re-offending is highlighted in the report, with funding of €10.7 million being provided through the Probation Service in 2015 to Community Based Organisations working with adults. A further €5 million in funding is provided by the Irish Youth Justice Service through the Probation Service to the Young Person Probation projects.
The Probation Service also continued to implement the Community Service Scheme. The Scheme affords offenders the opportunity to undertake unpaid work in the community, in lieu of a prison sentence. The Scheme also creates an opportunity for offenders to learn valuable work and life skills.
In 2015, the Probation Service managed almost 2,000 Community Service Orders totalling almost 300,000 hours of Community Service work carried out by offenders in lieu of 987 years in custody. Despite the work done by the Probation Service there continues to be a disappointing downward trend in the use of Community Service Orders. The use of prison as a sanction of last resort is a core principal of penal reform and I know the Probation Service has the capacity to take on the supervision and rehabilitation of more offenders.
I am delighted to report that the Probation Service will shortly see an intake of new Probation Officers arising from the recent recruitment competitions as well as an intake of Community Service Supervisors before the end of this year. Both groups are critical to the on-going delivery these new staff will help the Service achieve even better outcomes for offenders, communities and victims.
The rights and needs of victims of crime and their families need to be at the heart of the criminal justice process, and the Annual Report highlights the work of the Probation Service with those victims.
The Probation Service Victim Services Team provides a single point of contact on a regional basis, engaging with victims and responding to their concerns. A pilot Victim-Offender Mediation service for victims of sexual crime was commenced by the Probation Service last September.
It is not just for convenience that we are launching here today both Prisons and Probation reports. There is an ever-deepening level of cooperation between both entities and this is to the betterment of not just of prisoners but of society overall. Building on their successful and committed relationship, the Probation Service and the Irish Prison Service published their second Joint Strategic Plan, 2015-2017 in May last year. This plan includes a strong commitment to interagency working by the two agencies which will allow them to co-coordinate better and more focussed interventions. The Annual Reports of both Agencies provide an update on the progress of the Joint Strategy. This need for interagency co-operation in order to develop a just, humane and effective penal system was reiterated and advocated in the report of the Penal Policy Review Group. All of those who work in the Criminal Justice System must have a shared goal of helping to create a safer and a fairer Ireland.
One of the best examples of inter-agency co-operation is the Joint Agency Response to Crime (JARC), which I launched last November and which was established between An Garda Síochána, the Probation Service and the Irish Prison Service. I note that the JARC initiative has now commenced in four locations in Dublin and will be extended to more locations over the coming year.
The Probation Service and Prison Service have also extended their involvement with service users in the development and delivery of services. One such initiative is the partnership between the Irish Prison Service, the Probation Service and Irish Red Cross. The community based health and first-aid initiative improves community awareness and helps to reduce recidivism through ex-prisoner Irish Red Cross volunteers transitioning from prison into the community, while acting as peer mentors in substance abuse harm reduction and non-violent response to conflict programmes.
I also wish to highlight the significant achievement of both the Probation Service and the Irish Prison Service on receiving the Civil Service Excellence Award in Innovation for the inter-agency, Community Return Programme. This is an initiative whereby carefully selected prisoners are granted reviewable temporary release conditional on them performing unpaid community work. Currently the participants must be serving sentences of between 1 and 8 years and must have served at least half of their sentence. The award reflected the innovation, dedication, persistence and quality of Probation Service and Prison Service staff.
As I mentioned earlier, one of the key factors which contribute to offending behaviour is the misuse of drugs and alcohol. Given the previous finding that 89% of offenders on supervision have substance abuse issues I am pleased to that the Probation Service finalised its Alcohol Awareness Programme and made it available for national delivery in 2015 by Probation staff and partner community based organisations.
When I launched the report of the Penal Policy Review group in September 2014, I indicated that a review of the Drug and Alcohol services to offenders would be undertaken.
In 2015, the Directors of the Irish Prison Service and the Probation Service commissioned an independent review of alcohol and drug treatment services available to adult offenders in both prison and the community. The report of that review has been presented to me today and I am aware that both Services are working on an Action Plan to progress the recommendations. I look forward to reading the content of the report and to working with my Ministerial colleagues in addressing the addiction needs of offenders, both in custody and in the community, in a comprehensive and integrated way.
Moving now to the Irish Prison Service Annual Report, this sets out an overview of prison statistics for 2015 and also reports on the conclusion of the Irish Prison Service 3-year Strategic Plan.
One has to read the Report to appreciate the detail and complexity of the work of the Irish Prison Service. You will see that there were 17,206 committals to prison in 2015 which was an increase of 6.5% on the 2014 figure. When fines committals are excluded from these figures, the numbers committed under sentence increased by 230 or 6% from 3,874 in 2014 to 4,104 in 2015.
14,182 persons were sent to prison in 2015 compared to 13,408 in 2014, an increase of 5.8%. Of those, 79.4% were male and 20.6% were female. The number of prisoners serving sentences of 12 months or less increased by 8%.
There were 342 committals in respect of immigration issues which is down on 2014. The daily average numbers of prisoners in custody was 3,722 compared to 3,915 in 2014, a decrease of 5%. The average number of female offenders in custody was 131 which represents a 12.7% decrease on the 2014 average of 150. These figures show that while committals are increasing slightly, the daily average number in custody is falling and is in or around 2009 levels.
I am also pleased to be launching the Irish Prison Service Strategic Plan 2016 – 2018. This strategy is underpinned by the development of a number of further strategies including: Communications and Engagement, Psychology, Education and Capital.
In late 2015 the Inspector of Prisons submitted his report on the Culture and Organisation in the Irish Prison Service – A Roadmap for the Future. This report examined in detail the culture within the Irish Prison Service and I feel will contribute positively to the reform already underway in the IPS.
Construction work on Cork Prison has been completed and I will be officially opening that prison in the coming weeks. Building work is continuing in Limerick Prison and when this is completed in 2019 the new development will result in the first fully integrated Justice Sector facility in the State to include Courts Service, Prison Service and Probation Service.
A significant moment in 2015 was the State funeral of Thomas Kent. The professionalism shown by all staff members involved was a testament to them on this significant historical occasion and it was a proud day for the Irish Prison Service.
Both the Probation Service and Irish Prison Service are committed to putting in place effective internal and external communications networks. I am also pleased to launch the enhanced new websites of both Agencies here today. This will enable people including offenders, victims and practitioners to access information and to engage with the two services in a more efficient manner.
To conclude, I would like to congratulate both Directors and staff for your excellent progress in and attitude to working with offenders both in custody and in the community. I would like to thank you all for the work done to reduce re-offending and create safer communities for all in society.