202. Deputy Terence Flanagan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality her plans to reform the prison service; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5452/15]


Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): The Irish Prison Service Strategy Statement 2015 - 2018 is currently being developed in consultation with our staff at headquarters, those based in prisons, and other stakeholders in the criminal justice system and will set out the overall high level objectives and key strategic actions the Irish Prison Service intends to take during the period 2015 - 2018.
On 17 September 2014 published the report of the Penal Policy Review Group. The report presents a penal policy which aims to make Ireland a safer and fairer place. The rehabilitation and reintegration of offenders resulting in their desistance from crime is seen as the key to making Ireland safer. The report sets out the adoption of a penal policy with the dual purposes of punishment and rehabilitation both in the imposition and management of criminal sanctions. It also sets out a road map for the strategic development of penal reform into the future which will help modernise and shape how, we as a society, deal with some of the most complex issues involved in criminal justice and penal reform policy.
Some of the report's recommendations can be implemented in the short to medium term, while others will require a more long term approach. As an initial step, the Government agreed, in principle, to proceed immediately with the implementation of a number of key recommendations including the bringing forward of legislative proposals to establish the Parole Board on an independent statutory basis: preparing proposals and options for an open prison for female offenders. Work is currently underway to implement these recommendations.
The Strategy Statement 2015 - 2018 will set out how the Irish Prison Service, along with other statutory, community and voluntary sector partners, will implement the Report's recommendations to help reduce offending, improve opportunities for reintegration, improve outcomes more generally and to commit to treating each other fairly, with courtesy, respecting personal dignity, regardless of their role and background, as part of the prison community. These principles will be at the heart of what we set out to achieve as we continue to build and harmonise policy and service delivery.
The Strategy Statement 2015 - 2018 will build on the current Strategy which set out a challenging range of commitments in respect of our mission to provide safe and secure custody, dignity of care and rehabilitation to prisoners for safer communities.
I am pleased to note that some key targets have already been met, most notably overcrowding has been eliminated in Mountjoy Prison and priority has been given to reducing overcrowding in Cork, Limerick and the Dochas Centre.  On 12 December 2014 the numbers in custody was 3,725. This compares to 4,244 on 12th December 2012.
In conjunction with the Probation Service, the Irish Prison Service has continued the national roll out of the Community Return Programme, an incentivised scheme for earned temporary release under which carefully selected offenders can be granted structured temporary release in return for supervised community service. This co-operative approach is a direct result of the Joint Strategy published with the Probation Service which aims to deliver more effective offender management. This enhanced integration between both services is the realisation of the commitment in the Programme for Government to ensure better coordination in order to create an integrated offender management programme. 1,216 prisoners have taken part in the Community Return Programme since October 2011, and 909 have completed the programme. In addition to Community Return, the Community Support Schemes have been set up in Cork Prison, Mountjoy Campus, West Dublin Campus and Limerick Prisons, the aim of which is to reduce recidivism rates by arranging for additional support structures and provide for a more structured form of temporary release. At present there are 70 persons on temporary release with over 220 prisoners released onto this Scheme having successfully completed their sentences.
I am proud that these positive initiatives are being taken during my time as Minister for Justice and Equality. Over the lifetime of the proposed Strategy for 2015 - 2018, the Irish Prison Service will continue to build on progress it has made and will continue to promote respect for human rights, dignity and respect.
I intend to launch the Irish Prison Service and the Probation Service Strategy Statements in May 2015.