216. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the number of prisoners availing of educational or rehabilitative training; the extent to which the needs of these applicants continues to be met; the number on such programmes who are first-time offenders or otherwise; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [35736/15]
Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): I wish to advise the Deputy that the Irish Prison Service provides a wide range of rehabilitative programmes to those in custody that include education, vocational training, healthcare, psychiatric, psychological, counselling, welfare and spiritual services. These programmes can offer purposeful activity to those in custody while serving their sentences and encouraging them to lead law abiding lives on release. These programmes are available in all prisons and all prisoners are eligible to use the services.
On committal, all prisoners are interviewed by the Governor and are informed of the services available in the prison. At this point prisoners may be referred to services or they can self refer at a later date. Where Governors consider, on the information available, that a prisoner needs a particular intervention they will initiate a referral.
The development of prisoner programmes forms a central part of the Irish Prison Service Three Year Strategic Plan 2012 - 2015. There is a clear commitment in the Strategy to enhance sentence planning through Integrated Sentence Management and the delivery of prison based rehabilitative programmes.
As well as seeking to draw on best practice in adult and further education in the community, there has been a lot of curriculum development over the years that is specific to prison circumstances, such as courses on addiction, health issues and offending behaviour.
The Department of Education and Skills provides an allocation of 220 whole time teacher equivalents to the Prison Service through the Education and Training Boards (ETB). Education in prisons is delivered in partnership between the ETBs and the Irish Prison Service with a focus on providing education which is quality assured, student centred and which facilitates lifelong learning. The partnership endeavours to meet the needs of students through helping them cope with their sentence, achieve personal development and prepare for life after release. A broad and flexible curriculum is provided which ranges from basic literacy classes and peer led tutoring to Open University. There is an increasing focus on QQI accreditation as the modular structure best meets the needs of students in prison.
Other areas where there has been significant progress in prison education are in physical education, in the provision for higher education, in the arts and in preparing prisoners for release and supporting their transition to life, and often to education, on the outside. A top priority for the Irish Prison Service is ensuring help for those with reading and writing problems and peer mentoring programmes are currently active in all of our prisons.
The guiding principles which underpin the prisons' work and training service are to make available, work, work-training and other purposeful activities to all those in custody. Training activities are chosen to give as much variety as possible and also to give opportunities for those in prison to acquire practical skills which will help them secure employment on release. Work Training Officers have recently been appointed and assigned to areas such as catering, laundry, industrial cleaning, industrial skills and gym.
The Irish Prison Service has also been expanding the number of accredited courses and opportunities available to prisoners in Work Training in recent years. Enhanced partnership arrangements with accrediting bodies such as City and Guilds, the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA), and the Guild of Launders and Cleaners and the centralising of coordination and quality assurance arrangements have enabled us to extend the number of available courses and activities with certification.
The manner in which records are collated does not allow us to differentiate between first-time offenders and repeat offenders.
However, from the records that are available I can inform the Deputy that 38.5% (1,458 persons) of the prisoner population participated in Education activities in June.
Similarly 26% (961 persons) of the average prison population engaged in vocational training in August. It should be noted that a prisoner may participate in more than one activity.