212. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the extent to which particular efforts continue to be made to address the issue of recidivism, having particular regard to the extent to which some criminal gang members remain at large having clocked up scores of offences in some cases; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [35732/15]


Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): In recent years, my Department has published a number of studies on recidivism rates for offenders who were given a community sanction or a custodial sentence. These studies will allow the Irish Prison Service and the Probation Service access to a comprehensive bank of data in relation to the rate of recidivism among ex-prisoners and offenders. This will help to inform future policy on the management of offenders and will facilitate the formulation of strategies aimed at reducing recidivism. The next recidivism studies are expected to be published by the end of this year.
The issue of recidivism is dealt with in the Report of the Penal Policy Review Group which I published in September 2014. The Report proposes the adoption of a penal policy with the dual purposes of punishment and rehabilitation both in the imposition and management of criminal sanctions. It identified rehabilitation and reintegration as a core principle and significant factor in reducing crime. It considers that such aims are best achieved in a non-custodial environment as far as possible. In my view, prison is not the only sanction when it comes to those convicted of lesser non-violent offences. Re-offending can also be tackled head on by imposing a supervised community sanction, with appropriate supports, which could see punishment being served, but which would also lead, not only to rehabilitation, but to a reduced risk of re-offending.
The Deputy will also be aware that both the Probation Service and the Irish Prison Service work through a variety of programmes to address offending behaviour and to promote desistance from future criminal activity. Community Return is a scheme where carefully selected prisoners can be granted reviewable temporary release coupled with a requirement to do community service work. The type of work involved is intended to assist the community and the scheme is involved with a large number of charitable organisations and local community groups. The scheme represents a move away from releasing prisoners in an unstructured way. There has been a steady increase in the numbers of offenders participating in the scheme as outlined in the table beneath.

Year Numbers participating
2011 (introduced in October) 66
2012 299
2013 396
2014 461

Compliance rates operate at about 90% with the remainder being returned to custody to serve out their sentences in full. The scheme forms a core element of the Joint Probation Service and Probation Service Strategic Plan for 2015 to 2017. As well as allowing prisoners complete their sentence by way of performing an unpaid service to the community it has helped them to successfully reintegrate back into their community.
Tackling recidivist and prolific offending is a key focus for An Garda Síochána and the criminal justice system generally. Garda operations such as Operation Fiacla identify and target prolific offenders, including members of gangs, and arrangements are in place for the case management of such offenders so that all relevant information is co-ordinated by An Garda Síochána and available when such persons come before the courts.
The Criminal Justice (Burglary of Dwellings) Bill 2015 addresses issues relating to bail and sentencing for repeat burglars of dwellings. It is the Government’s intention that this Bill will be enacted during the Autumn Dáil session. The Bill emerged from a review of the criminal justice system’s response to the problem of burglaries, which I initiated earlier this year. The review highlighted that many burglaries are committed by serial offenders. The Bill targets this cohort of repeat offenders and has the potential to significantly reduce the number of burglaries being committed.
The review identified two key problems which can be tackled by legislation. One relates to repeat offenders who are granted bail despite being charged with multiple burglaries and who often commit further burglaries while on bail. The other relates to the fact that relatively short sentences can be imposed by the courts when multiple burglary offences are taken into account.
The Bill will amend the Bail Act 1997 to provide that for the purposes of bail applications, previous convictions for domestic burglary coupled with pending charges or recent convictions shall be considered as evidence that an accused person is likely to commit further domestic burglaries. The Bill will also amend the Criminal Justice (Theft and Fraud Offences) Act 2001 to require a court which decides to impose custodial sentences for multiple burglary offences committed within a 12 month window, to impose such sentences consecutively. The District Court will be empowered to impose aggregate sentences of up to 2 years in such circumstances.