311. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if her Department is collaborating with the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government to ensure that there is appropriate accommodation available to persons leaving prison; and the measures that are being put in place to ensure that persons are not being released into homelessness or into emergency accommodation where there is active drug use if this person has undergone detox while in custody. [3734/15]
Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): The Irish Prison Service is represented on seven of the Regional Homeless Consultative Fora established under the provisions of the Housing (Miscellaneous) Provisions Act, 2009. Through these fora, the Irish Prison Service, in partnership inter alia with the Probation Service, has been working to ensure that the unique circumstances of homeless offenders are taken into account in the development and provision of preventative and other supporting actions for persons who are vulnerable to homelessness.
As a direct consequence, of the Irish Prison Service raising this issue, my colleague Alan Kelly the Minister of Environment, Community & Local Government has included an action (15) in the National Action Plan on Homelessness which states that 'staff from the Department of Social Protection will work with housing authorities and the Irish Prison Service to provide an appropriate in-reach service to all prison settings to ensure that prisoners are assisted to find accommodation before release.'
In recent years, a weekly service was being provided in twelve prisons (all prisons and open centres excluding Cork and Limerick Prisons) by the Department of Social Protection Community Welfare Service through the Homeless Person's Unit (HPU). Referrals to the Department of Social Protection service generally occur at the pre-release stage where emergency and other accommodation options, and income maintenance can be arranged by the Community Welfare Officers (CWOs). The Department of Social Protection in-reach service is invaluable for the successful resettlement of offenders and a vital component of pre-release planning. It is widely recognised across the prison estate that in order to provide this service to all inmates, an increase in service provision is required.
In the Homeless Strategy National Implementation Plan the Irish Prison Service was assigned a priority action 'to improve discharge planning for all individuals leaving prisons to include identification of housing needs and follow up supports, through close links between those discharging institutions, housing providers and community based services'. I am happy to report to the Deputy that a new pre-release planning policy for the Irish Prison Service is at an advanced stage and will represent considerable improvements to current pre-release planning and practices in Irish prisons. It is envisaged that a new central information window on the Prisoner Information Management System (PIMS) will record a range of information with regard to post release concerns and plans for individual prisoners which will improve transition to the community and reduce occurrences of ex-offenders becoming homeless post release.
With regard to women prisoners specifically, a joint Women's Strategy document for the IPS and the Probation Service was published in April 2014. The issues being addressed include rehabilitation, housing and reintegration to the broader community, and apart from the IPS include engagement with the HSE, the Department of Education (VEC), NGOs, the National Council for Women, and areas within the Justice family. The Abigail Women's Centre in Finglas, Dublin opened in December 2014 and represents a major contribution to the realisation of the IPS/Probation Service joint women's strategy. The Abigail Women’s Centre is a 40 bed, low threshold facility providing supported temporary accommodation for homeless women in Dublin.
As part of the National Drugs Strategy 2009 - 2016 a protocol was developed between the IPS and the HSE for the continuation of drug treatment services as a person moves between prison (including prisoners on remand) and the community.