310. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if she will provide an update on the interventions put in place to address the number of women imprisoned here. [3733/15]


Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): I wish to advise the Deputy that one of the key objectives of the Irish Prison Service (IPS) and Probation Service joint strategy is improving outcomes for women offenders and in 2014 both Services launched the Joint Probation Service/IPS Strategy 2014-2016 for women offenders called "An Effective Response to Women Who Offend". The strategy reflects on current international research and practice which indicate that better outcomes can be achieved through utilising gender informed approaches in dealing with women. The support of the community and voluntary sector will be crucial to implementing the new interagency women’s strategy. Tús Nua is a residential project for women offenders funded by my Department through the Probation Service. Tús Nua works closely with the Irish Prison Service and the Probation Service to support women offenders to reintegrate into the community on their release from custody.
To date the Probation Service has continued to work in partnership with the IPS to put in place targeted responses in relation to women offenders. This is undertaken under the auspices of the sentence management process. The Probation Service has provided an in reach service to work with women in Limerick prison. Dedicated Probation Officers in the community have been identified and introduced on a phased basis where there are significant numbers of women offenders. Gender informed guidelines for assessment have been drafted and training is due to commence. Women specific Community Service and Community Return options are being identified on an ongoing basis. Links have been established with the Probation Board for Northern Ireland and a joint PS/IPS visit has been undertaken to the INSPIRE project in Belfast.
Furthermore, the Strategic Review of Penal Policy Report which I launched in September 2014 recommends a greater focus on step-down facilities, supported accommodation and the use of more community based open conditions for female offenders. In November 2014, the Government gave its approval, in principle, to proceed immediately with the implementation of a number of key recommendations including pursuing options for an open prison for female offenders.
Finally, the Abigail Centre in Finglas, Dublin opened in December 2014 which is a new service to meet the needs of vulnerable women that require supported accommodation for a temporary period, some of whom will have moved there directly on release from prison.