544. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the extent to which all first-time offenders, in respect of all offences, are provided access to educational and rehabilitative training from the outset, thus limiting the extent to which first-time offenders are exposed to the influence of more hardened criminals, and members of criminal gangs; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [20844/15]
Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): I am advised by the Irish Prison Service that the guiding principle which underpins education and work and training services in prisons is to make available, work, work-training, education and other purposeful activities to all those in custody. Training and education 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 and also to help prisoners cope with their sentences. A 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 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.
On committal, all prisoners are interviewed by a 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.
Placement's in prison are made having considered the safety of prisoners and the maintenance of good order and security in the prison. Irrespective as to whether a prisoner is a first time offender, a gang affiliated prisoner or part of the general prisoner population, prison management assess the needs of prisoners and refer them to the appropriate services. The manner in which records are collated does not allow the Irish Prison Service to differentiate between first-time offenders and gang affiliations.
Education in prisons is delivered in partnership between the Education Training Boards 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 FETAC accreditation as the modular structure best meets the needs of students in prison.