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Question

134. Deputy Jonathan O'Brien asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality to make a commitment to resource robust non-custodial responses to offending. [12646/16]

Answer

Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): The Probation Service, funded through my Department, is an agency with a national remit and with over 35 offices nationwide, whose role is to contribute to public safety through the management of community sanctions and measures. The Probation Service achieves this through the effective assessment and management of offenders by working with its criminal justice partners and a wide range of statutory, community and voluntary organisations. An Estimate of €38.963m for the Probation Service is provided in 2016.
As the Deputy may be aware, I published the Report of the Penal Policy Review Group on 17 September 2014. The Report proposes the adoption of a penal policy with the dual purposes of punishment and rehabilitation both in the imposition and management of criminal sanctions.
The Review Group identified rehabilitation and reintegration as a core principle and significant factor in reducing crime and considers that such aims are best achieved in a non-custodial environment as far as possible. Prison is not the only solution when it comes to those convicted of lesser non-violent offences. Re-offending can also be tackled head on by imposing a supervised community sanction, with appropriate supports, which could see punishment being served, but which would also lead, not only to rehabilitation, but to a reduced risk of re-offending. I have established an implementation group to oversee implementation of these recommendations and to report back to me on a regular basis. The group is chaired by Dr. Mary Rogan, Associate Professor, School of Law, Trinity College who was a member of the review group. I expect to receive a report from this group shortly setting out the state of implementation. It is also my intention to publish this report.
My Department has also led a Working Group of Justice Sector officials to consider options for moving forward on the proposal to establish a Community Court. Building on the recommendations of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality, the Working Group has been considering proposals to enhance our approach to tackling low level offenders and effectively addressing their offending behaviour through a Community Justice Intervention type programme. This would be a diversion from the courts system and would build on An Garda Síochána's Adult Cautioning Scheme which has the potential to respond more effectively to one-off and repeat, low level offending with the emphasis on speedy processing aimed at reducing the risk of re-offending and would also offer quick referral to the necessary services. Issues such as the format and most appropriate model that would apply to the Irish system are under active consideration in my Department and I hope to be in a position to outline definite proposals in this regard shortly.