43. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Justice and Equality his views on the fact that the uptake in the Building Better Lives programme for sexual offenders is decreasing year on year; if proposals to make this programme mandatory will be examined; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4385/19]


Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Charles Flanagan): I have been advised by the Irish Prison Service that there are between 400 and 450 individuals convicted of sexual violence in custody at any one time.
A National Programme to reduce the risk of re-offending and enhance public protection to the greatest possible extent, known as the Building Better Lives programme, has operated in the Prison Service since 2009 and is based on international best practice. The Programme comprises of group interventions in three modules and allows responsive and flexible delivery of rehabilitation services which take account of individual risk, needs and capacity. 
Statistics in relation to participants in the Programme are outlined in the following table and show some fluctuation but no significant decrease.

Year TOTAL engaged in all or part of BBL.
2015 22
2016 20 (+ 1 dropout)
2017 37 (+ 2 dropouts)
2018 31 (+ 1 dropout)

It is important to understand that, while the programme tends to be a particular focus for attention, it is only one of a number of assessment and intervention (treatment) pillars provided by the Irish Prison Service and Probation Service for people convicted of sexual violence.  Because many people convicted of sexual violence do not meet the criteria for the programme, there are various other pillars of intervention and management available.
These include the following; Individual offence focused work by Psychology/Probation Service; Probation Service engagement including risk assessment and management where the individual has a Post Release Supervision Order; the Psychology ‘Pathways to Change’ group; Engagement with prison in-reach Psychiatry services for stabilisation and maintenance of mental health where a mental health diagnosis is made; Sex Offender Risk Assessment and Management (SORAM), which has been established to support the cooperation and coordination between key statutory organisations involved in managing the risk posed to the community by convicted sex offenders; and the Safer Lives Community Group Work Treatment Programme.
A significant number of those released, who do not participate in Building Better Lives Programme, are managed through one or more of these programmes.
The Building Better Lives programme is provided by a team of Psychologists and Probation Officers who have developed specific expertise in clinical practice including assessment and therapeutic work with men convicted of sexual offences. The criteria for participation in the Building Better Lives programme are informed by best practice and include: a prison sentence longer than 18 months to provide time to complete the programme, full admission of the offence and harm caused to the victim, robustness of personality to withstand the challenge of the group, stability of mental health, intellectual, social and developmental capacity and some literacy capacity.
I am informed that, where prisoners are not suitable for the Programme due to the denial of their offence/offending behaviour, the  Irish Prison Service has engaged with an international expert in relation to the ongoing challenges faced in the treatment and management of ‘categorical deniers’.  The preliminary findings from a 'deniers' programme run in another jurisdiction are positive and I understand the IPS Psychology Service sees this approach as the next critical step in the treatment and management of sexual violence in custody.
 As I have stated, there are a number of reasons why sex offenders do not engage, including denial, lack of motivation, insufficient time in sentence, lack of suitability due to an appeal of their conviction and complexity of case. Approximately 75%  of the sex offender population are not suitable to engage in the Programme for these reasons.
For the reasons I have set out, and in keeping with best practice, the Irish Prison Service has no proposals to make offence-focused treatment for sex offenders mandatory.