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Mr. President, Distinguished Guests, Delegates.

Thank you for your kind invitation to address your annual conference here in Athlone today. I regret that I was not in a position to join you last year as I was abroad on State business but can I thank you for the welcome afforded to my colleague Minister of State Kathleen Lynch who attended in my absence. Attending your conference presents me with an opportunity to acknowledge and thank you for the excellent work carried out on a daily basis by all members of the Irish Prison Service. 

As you will remember it was at this time last year that I launched the Irish Prison Service Three-Year Strategic Plan 2012 – 2015 at the Irish Prison Service Training & Development Centre, Beladd House, in Portlaoise.  

The Strategy Statement sets out the high level objectives and key strategic actions the Irish Prison Service is taking during this period.  Significant progress has been made in relation to a wide range of strategic actions.  In particular, the national roll out of a new Incentivised Regimes Policy, which is now in operation in all prisons, and the national roll out of the Community Return Programme in conjunction with the Probation Service – with over 300 offenders having completed the programme - have had a very positive impact on the resettlement and reintegration prospects of prisoners.
There have, to date, been 473 participants in the Community Return scheme with 115 offenders currently engaged in Community Service work and it is hoped that this programme will be expanded over the coming year towards the aim of accommodating 400 prisoners per annum over the period of the strategy

Action also continues to be taken to reduce overcrowding with the capacities of Mountjoy, Limerick and Cork prisons being significantly reduced and aligned to the recommendations made by the Inspector of Prisons. This has been possible due to the availability of structured temporary release schemes such as the community Return Programme and the opening of new prisoner accommodation.

Other prisoner programmes which have advanced significantly in the past 12 months are Integrated Sentence Management and Incentivised Regimes Policy. These are progressive regime developments and play an important role in the rehabilitation of offenders thereby contributing to public safety. 1,100 new prisoners participated in ISM in 2012.  Officers dedicated to ISM are coming on stream, many of whom are redeploying Clerks. 

Incentivised Regimes is now live in all prisons.  An IT project has commenced to support the process.  The Irish Prison Service Training and Development Centre commenced the development of a training programme for staff involved in Incentivised Regimes.  The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform has sanctioned the creation of a new grade of Work Training Officer (WTO) which will facilitate the provision of vocational training and other services linked to incentivised regimes for prisoners.  The new WTO grade will facilitate the further implementation of the new IPS Incentivised Regime Policy. The grade will replace the current arrangement of offering allowances to prison officers to provide this service.  The implementation of this policy is critical to the progression of prisoners through training, education rehabilitation and community return schemes, thereby reducing further the staffing and other resources needed in the prison service.  It is hoped that a competition to fill vacant WTO posts, many of which are new posts created by the Joint Task Review process, will run in the near future.

A significant 40 month capital plan is well under way, despite the difficult economic situation we are currently in.  This demonstrates the commitment of the Government to addressing the problems of overcrowding, outdated facilities and slopping out.  These are conditions and practices that the Government in a modern State cannot defend.

The proposals for a new prison at Cork have advanced considerably in recent months. The new facility in Cork will be built on a site immediately adjacent to the existing prison and will house 275 prisoners and have a maximum capacity of 310 prisoners. It is expected that works will commence in October 2013.

A concept design that will form the basis of a design and build competitive tender process for the redevelopment of Limerick prison is nearing finalisation. The redevelopment will be undertaken over a period  of four years commencing in December 2013 and will include the construction of a new 100 cell wing to replace the existing and outdated  A and B wings as well as a new women’s prison unit capable of accommodating 50 female prisoners. The tender process is expected to commence in June 2013 and a contractor will be on site by year’s end. I welcome the fact that following the transfer of prisoners to the new Midlands Prison block that the antiquated B Wing has been closed.

In addition, the refurbished Mountjoy C wing, which includes in cell sanitation and a dedicated committal unit, was reopened in May 2012. 

This facilitated the closure of the B Wing and the subsequent completion of the works to install in cell sanitation and enhance the conditions in the Wing.   The B Wing works were completed in December and following discussions with the staff association the refurbished B wing opened in December and A Wing closed to facilitate its refurbishment. We will continue this redevelopment process this year and will commence the works on the D Wing in September.

As you are aware, as Minister, I was not satisfied that the existing prisoner complaints procedure was effective. Prisoners are in a particularly vulnerable position and they must have access to a credible complaints system that deals with genuine complaints in an open, transparent and independent way. A suitable model was proposed by the Inspector of Prisons and this has been adopted.

As you are aware a new complaints procedure for every category of complaint is to be introduced within the 3 year time frame of the Irish Prison Service's Strategic Plan. Stage 1 of the implementation plan has been successfully implemented over the past few months. 

Stage 1 of the process addressed that category of complaints which have given rise to most concern. These are what the Inspector refers to as category "A" complaints alleging serious ill treatment, use of excessive force, racial discrimination, intimidation or threats. Amendments to the Prison Rules have been introduced and such complaints are now being examined by investigators from outside the Prison Service to ensure an effective and impartial investigation. 

I understand that you may have concerns in relation to possible vexatious allegations.  However, I am confident that the complaints process now established will prove to be robust and impartial.  Prisoners are in a particularly vulnerable position and they must have access to a credible complaints system that deals with genuine complaints in an open, transparent, and independent way
The Prison Service is just one element of the criminal justice system. It cannot and does not act alone. The Prison Service continues to participate in processes to foster greater inter-agency co-operation in the criminal justice sector and community sector working with the Courts Service, An Garda Síochána and the Probation Service. 

The Courts Service has commenced a pilot project in relation to centralisation of custodial cases into one court location in each of four district court regions which should generate significant savings for the IPS. 

The Courts Service has agreed to a number of changes in the operation of the Criminal Courts of Justice (CCJ).  These are resulting in improved operational efficiencies for the Prison Service and have resulted in decreased levels of staffing provided by the Prison Service generating annualised cost saving of €490,000 while also reducing the daily escort requirements from the Dublin prisons resulting in less disruption to their daily regimes. 

The Probation Service is rolling out the Community Return Programme.  This will increase the number of prisoners benefiting from this structured form of release through enhanced cooperation with all stakeholders.  During the lifetime of this project it will achieve the placement, per annum, of 400 prisoners serving sentences of 1-8 years.

The Courts Service is to expand further the use of video conferencing facilities between prisons and various court locations. 

In addition, I have established a working group to conduct a strategic review of penal policy.

This is in line with the recommendations of the Thornton Hall Project Review Group which reported last year. The Group had recommended that an all encompassing strategic review of penal policy should be carried out which will incorporate an examination and analysis of all aspects of penal policy including prevention, sentencing policies, alternatives to custody, accommodation and regimes, support for reintegration and rehabilitation and the issue of female prisoners.
This Group, under the chairmanship of Mr Michael Whelan, with the Director General, Michael Donnellan representing the Prison Service, will carry out a strategic review of penal policy taking into account the relevant work already carried out in this jurisdiction and elsewhere, the rights of those convicted of crimes, the perspective of those who are victims of crime, and the interests of society in general.

The Group has been asked to make recommendations as to how a principled and sustainable penal system might be further enhanced taking into account resource implications, Constitutional imperatives and our international obligations. The Group has also being asked to include an examination and analysis of the role of penal policy in crime prevention, sentencing policies, alternatives to custody, custodial accommodation and regimes, reintegration and rehabilitation, and any special issues relating to female offenders and prisoners.

The Thornton Hall Project Review Group addressed the medium term needs of the prison system. I believe this review will help address the future needs of the prison system and will map a way forward for the ongoing reform of that system and the future development of penal policy in this State. I am expecting the Group to report back in September 2013.

Whilst it is important that the conditions for prisoners are improved it is also important to create a positive working atmosphere for the prison staff.

The new Strategic Plan is underpinned by the principles of dignity and respect and these principles are at the heart of what the Service has set out to achieve over the period of the Strategy.  A Dignity at Work Steering Group was established in 2012, with the aim of improving the quality of working relationships, interactions and behaviours within the Irish Prison Service.

The Steering Group identified the need for Focus Groups to gain an insight into the main issues facing staff on a day to day basis.  External facilitators commenced the Focus Groups in November 2012 which will inform the development of an Action Plan in due course. I encourage you to engage with this process so as to improve the work place for all your members.

It is noteworthy that despite the significant challenges faced during the past year that industrial relations within the Irish Prison Service have remained good.   This has been achieved through open communications facilitated through active bilateral engagement and, notably, the Implementation Body Prisons Sectoral Group. Third party arbitration has been avoided with any matters of disagreements being successfully resolved through the facilitation by the Sectoral Chair.  I hope that this open engagement continues in the future and will be used to set in train a further agreement to continue on this excellent work carried out to date under Croke Park.

We know now that the Public Services Committee of Congress has not accepted the LRC proposals with regard to the Public Service Agreement (Croke Park Agreement).  However, the fact remains that the State must still make payroll savings, across the Public Service, of €300 million this year and €1 billion by 2015.  Following reflection on the outcome of the ballot, the Government has requested the CEO of the Labour Relations Commission to make contact with the parties to establish whether or not there is a basis for a negotiated agreement to meet these budgetary targets.

Your association showed a determination to engage positively and constructively in all matters relating to the Croke Park Agreement, culminating in your vote to accept the LRC proposals.  This capacity to enter into difficult negotiations and reach agreement on new arrangements well illustrates the clear minded and businesslike manner in which the POA addresses issues   that are difficult for your members and of crucial importance to all of us who live in this State.  The constructive and careful leadership provided by the POA reflects the dedication and professionalism of your organisation as does the calm, committed and considered approach that you take in representing prison officers throughout the State.  You go about your work with dedication and decency and I want to thank you for that.  I know that you will bring the same professionalism and commitment to the welfare of your members to the table in any further discussions that take place.  

In advance of any further developments on this matter, I wish to recognise the significant achievements made under the existing agreement by the Irish Prison Service, in partnership with the Prison Officers Association with both National Officers and local branch representatives. 

The transformation of the Prison Service is a joint process, with the aim of securing prison grade payroll savings of €21 million while maintaining and even increasing the level of service to the community. Increases in the level of service can be seen in the many important new programmes being introduced which I will speak about shortly.
The savings of €21 million are being achieved by a root and branch joint review of all parts of the Prison Service to enable the prisons to function fully with a significant reduction in staff numbers.  This joint review is also facilitating the introduction of high-profile reforms, including the introduction of new prison administration grades.

As you are aware recruitment is ongoing for new Prison Administration and Support Officers (PASOs) which will allow us to release 142 fully trained prison Clerks from administration tasks to essential front line duties, through their replacement with the new PASO grades.  More than 50 PASO 3 grades have already taken up service in prisons, and the PASO 1 & 2 grades will commence their training this month.  The introduction of this new grade will ultimately deliver €3.5 million per annum in payroll savings.

While the process is not complete for all, I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the Clerks for their diligence and commitment to the grade and wish them well in the new roles they will take on in the prisons.

Overall, implementation of the recommendations in the Joint Task Review Reports has begun in seven prisons. This includes the introduction of a new Daily Task List and revised staff rosters. In addition, this weekend, a further two prisons will ‘go-live’ with the introduction of their revised rosters. It is by introducing these reforms that we can convince others that the savings in the Prison Service are genuine and permanent.  The savings that are claimed in the Croke Park Agreement are under constant scrutiny.  The Implementation Body has appointed a firm of Accountants to independently review and verify the savings declared by the Prison Service in 2012.
The final report on this verification process is awaited but I understand that it will be a positive review and will confirm annual payroll savings of €6.3 million in 2012. 

This will validate that the Joint Task review process is delivering results in the Prison Service, and those who are critics of the Croke Park process will be able to see that real savings have been delivered and that joint agreement between public sector unions and the employer can and has been an effective method of making real and substantial savings to the Public Sector Pay Bill. It is for this reason that I hope that a future agreement to continue this process can be reached.

In addition to the direct reduction in payroll costs delivered through the Joint task Reviews, further savings have been delivered through the opening of new accommodation and facilities with streamlined staffing following the Joint Task Review model.  This includes the new Prisoner Accommodation at:

Dóchas Centre, where the new 20 bed enhanced regime unit in Dóchas Centre, The Willows, opened on 7 November 2012.

Midlands Prison, where the construction of a new 179 cell wing in the Midlands Prison, which will house 300 prisoners, is complete and operational.  These additional 300 places are enabling the IPS as part of its three-year Strategic Plan to reduce overcrowding in Cork, Limerick, and Mountjoy Prisons and provide in-cell sanitation in these prisons to eliminate slopping out.

A benefit of the review of the tasks in each prison was that it provided the foundation for the review of the management structure. This has resulted in a reduction of circa of 18.5% (i.e. 28.5 posts out of 153.5 posts) in management numbers at senior and middle management grades (Chief Officer 2 and higher grades) across the Prison Service.  This is generating payroll savings of circa €2 million per annum at these senior and middle management levels.

The implementation of new agreed Campus Governance structures in three locations has allowed the creation of a unified management structure contributing to the substantial savings at senior management levels.  Three Prison Campus Governors have been appointed in the last 12 months, two of whom were appointed through an open competition, a first for the prison service.  These new structures will greatly facilitate the further development of shared services on each Campus.  Certain areas such as trades and healthcare have been identified as the most appropriate areas for early adaptation to delivery on a Campus Shared Services Model. 

As we move into another year I am confident that building on the achievements to date we can continue to successfully undertake this change journey together.  Often with all that is going on in the world we can deviate from our path but I am confident that with the direction of the Prison Service Three Year Strategic Plan it will continue to bring focus to our direction and continue improvements in the Prison Service for the benefits of the public and the Service’s key stakeholder, including yourselves.

Again, I would like to thank you for your kind invitation to this conference and I wish you every success in your discussions.