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Question

7. Deputy Niall Collins asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the action she has taken to implement the recommendations of the strategic review of penal policy; the way she will address the drugs crisis in our prisons; her views on whether the current justice system is addressing the problem of drugs effectively; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6987/15]

Answer

Deputy Frances Fitzgerald: The Deputy's question relates to the report of the Penal Policy Review Group. Some of the group's recommendations can be implemented in the short to medium term but others will require a more long-term approach. As an initial step, last November - shortly after the report was published - I obtained permission from the Government to follow through with some very key recommendations. These include bringing forward legislative proposals to establish the parole board on an independent statutory basis; preparing proposals and options for Government on reform of sentencing policy, including a review of the threshold at which presumptive minimum sentences relating to drugs and other offences apply; preparing proposals for Government on legislating for the review's recommendation that courts should set out in writing their reasons for imposing custodial sentences; preparing proposals on the potential for increased use of earned remission; and pursuing options for an open prison for female offenders. These are the first recommendations from the report of the review group with which we have chosen to proceed. I am also establishing a group to oversee the implementation of the report's recommendations in general, with representation from key stakeholders. I recently appointed Dr. Mary Rogan - who was a member of the review group and is a former chairperson of the Irish Penal Reform Trust - to serve as the independent chair of the new group. Dr. Rogan is an extremely competent person and I am sure her appointment will be widely welcomed.
The availability of contraband, especially drugs, in our prisons continues to be a major challenge for the Irish Prison Service. It is clear that this availability is a huge barrier to prisoner rehabilitation and reform. The Irish Prison Service is currently examining a number of key measures relating to drugs, including the enhancement of existing search capabilities and procedures, the expansion of the canine unit, the introduction of a confidential telephone line by means of which information on drug trafficking into our prisons can be given in confidence and the introduction of new technologies to prevent mobile phone. It is also considering measures to improve treatment in prison for drug addiction. The head of the Irish Prison Service is very conscious of the challenges drugs pose. Of course, those challenges must be faced by the criminal justice and prison systems in other jurisdictions. We will continue our efforts, including by means of introducing new initiatives, to deal with this scourge in our prisons.