Check against delivery

Director of the Probation Service, Director General of the Irish Prison Service, invited guests.

I am delighted to be with you here today in the Head Office of the Probation Service, to launch the Joint Irish Prison Service and Probation Service Strategic Plan 2013 to 2015 - and also to publish the 2012 Annual Reports for both Services.

The Joint Strategic Plan sets out how both Services will further develop their multiagency approach to offender management and rehabilitation from pre to post imprisonment in order to reduce re-offending and improve prisoner outcomes. The Plan, which will complement both Services’ own Strategic Plans, published last year, is the realisation of commitments given in those Strategies and in the Programme for Government to ensure better co-ordination with each other to create an integrated offender management programme.

Both Services have as their primary goal the maintenance of public safety through the reduction of offending of those in their care.  By adopting a multi-agency approach to planning for the release of offenders, and to oversee their transition into the community, they will be better placed to achieve this goal.

The Strategy contains seven Strategic Actions which will be delivered during the lifetime of the Plan:

· The Development of a Continuum of Sentence Management
· The roll out of Community Return
· Support for Short Term Sentenced Prisoners
· The introduction of Specific Reintegration Initiatives in Cork and Limerick
· The development of a Specific Strategy for Women Offenders
· The development of a Specific Strategy to address the needs of Younger Offenders, and
· Enhanced Co-operation Between both Agencies to Improve the Collation and Publication of Data and Statistical Information.

The Irish Prison Service and the Probation Service play a vital role in engaging with convicted prisoners in order to reduce re-offending. While it is the work of the Probation Service to manage such offenders in the community and the work of the Irish Prison Service to manage those sent to prison, I believe it is imperative that both work closely, not only with each other, but also with other key Departments, agencies and community organisations.

I am certain, that through this greater collaborative working between the Prison Service and the Probation Service, the fruit of their combined efforts to address cycles of sustained offending behaviour will be far greater than could otherwise be achieved. Through enhancing case management and through care arrangements and by increasing the availability of structured release programmes in the community, I believe we can improve resettlement and reintegration outcomes for prisoners.

I am glad that this Joint Strategy contains concrete and practical targets.  Among the Strategic Actions is the continued roll out of the Community Return Programme which has proven to be a great success.  The initial feedback from the participants has been positive and many have commented on the supports and structure that it gives them on their release and how it has assisted in their transition back into the community.

I am pleased to note that almost 500 prisoners have taken part in the initiative since it commenced in October 2011 with 311 prisoners now having completed the programme. There were 119 prisoners on Community Return on 1 May this year, which was the highest total at one time since the Programme commenced.

Compliance has been almost 90%; and the 10%  who did not comply with the terms and conditions of their release on Community Return were re-committed to prison immediately to serve the rest of their sentence in custody.  The Community Return Programme has been a really positive development, and as well as allowing prisoners to complete their sentence by way of performing a service to the community, has significantly helped these prisoners to successfully resettle in their communities. 

The national roll out of the Community Return Programme saw the establishment of a new co-located unit, based here in Haymarket, and including an official from the Irish Prison Service. This is a new departure for both Services. This Unit now manages the Community Return Programme nationally and has taken on responsibility for the co-ordination of several local interagency projects in Dublin, Cork and Limerick.

In addition to Community Return, the Unlocking Community Alternatives Scheme (UCAS) initiative has been set up in Cork in response to overcrowding problems in Cork Prison and in an attempt to address the recidivism levels of those serving sentences of under 12 months from that catchment area. The UCAS group comprises of a number of prison based personnel, representing the discipline grades and therapeutic services, as well as a Community Support Worker who recently commenced duties.

The group engages with prisoners shortly after committal and seeks to identify risk factors, make appropriate referrals and prepare a sentence management plan in each case. 

The primary aim of this Scheme is to reduce the current recidivism rates by arranging for additional support structures and provide for a more structured form of temporary release. This is a pilot scheme and will be reviewed in 12 months in order to assess whether it has had a positive impact on re-offending rates.

The Strategy will see a focus on working with short term sentenced prisoners - helping with issues such as housing, medical care, substance abuse, training needs, etc.  The aim is to increase support to prisoners -  prior to their release from prison, upon their release and then for a period after their release in order to help break the cycle of reoffending. Discussions have been ongoing, in this regard, with a number of external agencies and it is hoped that further initiatives will commence in the near future.

The Strategy also includes a commitment to develop specific strategies for both women and young offenders.  A strategy for women offenders will aim to improve the outcomes for those women in custody; reduce recidivism; strengthen early intervention measures through adopting a coordinated, multi-agency approach.

The strategy for the management of young offenders, will allow the Prison Service and Probation Service, by working with their partners and other agencies, to provide enhanced case management and through care arrangements for young offenders and ensure age appropriate prison based regimes and programmes pending the transfer of 17 years olds in detention to the Irish Youth Justice Service.

While the Prison Service and Probation Service are separate entities, the work they do is closely linked and has the same ultimate goal – to reduce re-offending leading to safer communities.  This Strategy is the formalising of that link and, as I have already said is, the realisation of the commitment in the Programme for Government. I am pleased that this commitment has been delivered and I will continue to monitor the implementation of this strategy over its lifetime.

Today, I am also publishing the Annual Reports for both Services. 

The Annual Report of the Probation Service sets out the work and the performance of the Service during 2012 against the key objectives as outlined in the Probation Service Strategy Statement 2012-2014.

During the year there were 8,790 referrals to the Probation Service from the Courts and in total the Probation Service managed over 15,000 offenders. On any one day, Probation Service staff are involved in the management of over 8,000 offenders in the community.  Last November, the Probation Service, in collaboration with the Central Statistics Office, published a recidivism research report.  The main finding of the study was that almost 63% of offenders who had been on Probation or Community Service in 2007 had not gone on to re-offend within two years. 

In order to meet the growing demand for services, the Probation Service continued to prioritise working with offenders according to their risk of reoffending.  Conscious of the need to maximise the use of scarce resources, the Probation Service developed a low intensity supervision model in which the level of Probation Service engagement with clients reflects their risk of re-offending. This development, in conjunction with existing measures to prioritise higher risk offenders, means that the Service’s resources are targeted appropriately, on the basis of professional risk assessment. In all, nine per cent of offenders on Probation Supervision are managed on low intensity supervision. In addition the report outlines a number of new developments: in new case management plans; and in the assessment of offenders such as the interagency Sex Offender Risk Assessment and Management (SORAM) model.

It is clear from the Prison Service 2012 Annual Report that the large number of prisoners being committed to custody remains a challenge even though prison numbers remained relatively static in 2012. The overall daily average number in custody was 4,318 compared to 4,390 in 2011.

There were 17,026 committals to prison in 2012 which is a decrease of 1.7% on the previous year and is the first year on year decrease in committal figures since 2007. 13,860 persons were committed to prison in 2012 compared to 13,952 in 2011 which also represented a small decrease of 0.7%.  Committals to prison under sentence for periods less than 12 months remains high with 11,844 such committals.  Committals under sentence of less than 3 months increased by 10% on 2011, that is from 8,070 to 8,837. 

In this context too, it is disappointing to note that 2,569 Community Service Orders were made in 2012 compared to 2,738 Orders in 2011.  Similarly, the number of committals to prison under sentence for periods less than 12 months includes 8,304 imprisoned for non payment of a court ordered fine. 

It is also worth noting the recently published Council of Europe Annual Penal Statistics which provide a global overview of the prison populations detained in penal institutions across Europe.  It also provides statistics and information on persons serving non-custodial sanctions and measures.  While it can be difficult to make direct and accurate comparisons with the penal systems in other countries, it is disappointing to note Ireland’s committal rate (imprisonment of offenders) in 2011 was 380 per 100,000 people compared to a European average of 233.  Our release rate was 376 per 100,000 more than double the average of 165.  Our turnover rate or estimated number of prisoners likely to be released during the year stands at 81 per 100 prisoners compared to an average of 51.  In addition, the average sentence in Irish prisons was three months in 2011 compared to 9.7 months on average.

These figures alone show that we are out of kilter with Europe and other parts of the world.  It is clear that too many offenders serve short sentences of 3 months or less which is neither of benefit to the State or to victims of crime nor act as a deterrent to reoffending.   I am strongly of the view that we need to keep the numbers of people committed to prison for the non-payment of fines to the absolute minimum.  We have already legislated to require judges to take a person’s financial circumstances into account when setting a fine.  Work is now well underway on further major reforms to the fine payment and recovery system in Ireland.  The Fines (Amendment) Bill, which I expect to publish this term will, when enacted, make it easier for people to pay a fine and where they fail to do so, there will be sufficient options available to the courts in the form of, for example, attachment of earnings, community service, or recovery orders to all but eliminate the need to commit anyone to prison for the non-payment of fines.

I also want to ensure that greater use of community service is made and that it is utilised to a greater extent.  Since the enactment of the Criminal Justice (Community Service) (Amendment) Act in 2011, it is available to the judiciary as a viable non-custodial option.  Under the Act, judges are required to consider the appropriateness of a community service order in circumstances where an alternative sentence of imprisonment of up to 12 months would be considered.  Liam Herrick of the Irish Penal Reform Trust, for example, has said that the overuse of imprisonment for less serious offences and for fines default, along with a high proportion of prisoners committed on remand means that, proportionately, Ireland is sending more offenders into prison for short sentences than almost any other EU state.  On the figures available, it is clear that too many people are still being sent to prison to serve very short sentences to no public benefit at a time when the Probation Service has the capacity to take on more offenders. This is a particular cause of concern to me. It is for our judiciary to independently determine the sentence appropriate in individual cases. In doing so, it is important that they apply the law as contained in the 2011 Act. If there are any amendments required to be made to that Act to ensure its wider application, these will be considered by me but to date there has been no suggestion that any such amendments are required.

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 College in Portlaoise. The progress report on the Year 1 Implementation Plan forms part of the Annual Report. Significant progress has been made in relation to a wide range of issues. The roll-out of a new Incentivised Regimes Policy, now in operation in all prisons, and the national roll-out of the Community Return Programme, which I mentioned earlier, have had a very positive impact on the resettlement and re-integration prospects of prisoners.

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 through the implementation of the 40 month capital plan which is well under way.

As you are also aware I have appointed Penal Policy Review Group, which has been tasked by me to make recommendations as to how a principled and sustainable penal system might be further enhanced and to carry out 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.

To me, this review offers real potential for the criminal justice system to come up with tangible and measurable short to medium term strategies which place the responsibility and the solutions for offending behaviour in a much wider societal context.

To conclude, I would like to thank both the Director of the Probation Service, Vivian Geiran and Michael Donnellan, Director General of the Prison Service for inviting me to launch their new Joint Strategy and their Annual Reports for 2012.

I wish to congratulate both you and your staff for your continued excellent work and commitment to working with offenders both in custody and in the community to reduce re-offending to create safer communities for all in society. I would also like to wish both Services well in implanting a challenging and exciting joint Strategic plan over the coming three years.