Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen, I am very pleased to be here this afternoon to officially launch the 2012 Annual Report of the Irish Association for the Social Integration of Offenders (IASIO). This is the first Annual Report of the new IASIO group and marks a significant milestone in its own right.
I would like to begin by thanking your Chairperson, Mr Pat Lynch, for his kind invitation to attend and address you here today. I also want to take this opportunity to thank your fellow Board members, your management, and staff for all your work culminating in the publication of your report today. I have a particular interest in this area and I welcome all efforts that are being made to assist with the social integration of offenders into our communities.
I understand IASIO was formed in April 2012, when three programmes, formerly managed by Business in the Community Ireland, transferred to the newly formed Irish Association for the Social Integration of Offenders. These are the Linkage, GATE and Resettlement programmes. The 2012 Annual Report highlights in considerable detail the work of IASIO in providing much needed services to offenders through these three programmes.
The largest of these programmes is the Linkage Programme which supports the integration of offenders into the working community. It provides a training, employment and guidance service and is funded by the Probation Service. Finding employment is one of the key factors in helping offenders to desist from crime. Without the work done by the Linkage Training and Employment Officers, the particular challenges that Probation clients and ex-prisoners face in seeking employment would be overwhelming. They help offenders to make a range of informed choices and support them in taking progressive steps to employment; steps that are achievable and sustainable. Of the 1,966 people who engaged with the Linkage Programme in 2012, it is interesting to read that these steps have led 618 persons to places in training or education and 204 of these to an employment placement. Given the times we are in, these figures represent worthwhile achievements and while there is always more to be done, I congratulate you on that.
The GATE and Resettlement programmes are funded by the Irish Prison Service. Unfortunately, it can be the case that any progress prisoners make while in prison to tackle their offending behaviour and develop their true potential can be all but lost following their release from custody without the necessary supports in place. The GATE and Resettlement programmes help to address this by providing practical assistance and support to offenders as they make the transition from prison to living again in the community.
The GATE Programme works with prisoners to develop plans to assist their reintegration into the working community following their release. Through the provision of guidance and a placement service operating within the prison, the appropriate training, education and employment opportunities are identified. This assists prisoners’ progress towards independence after release and ultimate reintegration
The Resettlement Programme provides support and assistance to prisoners in accessing essential services to meet their identified needs. Following release, offenders are supported in accessing housing, addiction and other services, while at the same time offered continual personal support. I am pleased to note that both of these programmes exceeded the targets set for 2012.
The first year in operation of any organisation is a significant milestone which inevitably brings its own challenges. I would like to compliment the Chairman, Board, CEO and staff of IASIO who have worked in partnership with the Probation Service and Irish Prison Service to manage a smooth transition to the new corporate structure. I believe that this newly formed structure has allowed the management and staff of IASIO to support and add value to the work of the Probation Service and Irish Prison Service which has facilitated the provision of new services to reintegrate offenders into their community.
It is also important here today to acknowledge the work of Business in the Community Ireland which laid the solid foundation for the work now being done by IASIO. I know that both the Probation Service and the Irish Prison Service appreciate their involvement and support in establishing the Linkage Programme thirteen years ago, and more recently, the GATE and Resettlement Programmes.
As many of you will know, IASIO is jointly funded by the two agencies of my Department; the Irish Prison Service and the Probation Service. Both of these agencies share the common goal of maintaining public safety through the reduction of offending by those in their care, whether they are offenders placed directly under Probation supervision by the Courts, or sentenced to custody. They are both committed to a multi- agency approach in all their work including planning and managing the release of offenders and their transition back into the community.
I am pleased to say that specific actions in this interagency co-operation are clearly set out in their joint strategic plan which I published last May. The important support provided by IASIO to both these organisations through the various programmes enhance their capacity to achieve rehabilitation and resettlement objectives. I believe it all helps to provide improved outcomes for individuals and communities across the country.
For my part, I was delighted to meet the Board of IASIO earlier this afternoon and to hear at first hand about their important work and experience to date. Their report provides much more detail of course and clearly demonstrates their active support of the Irish Prison Service and the Probation Service through the Linkage, Gate and Resettlement Programmes. The case studies and client profiles in the report show quite clearly the real practical benefits involved particularly in providing support and hope to those who wish to change their offending ways to a positive and purposeful lifestyle. In this way, and particularly in these difficult economic times, we can assist people to become valued pro-social members of society.
I would like once again to congratulate IASIO on their achievements in their first year of operation. IASIO has proven that it has the ability to adapt to the changing needs of the Probation and Prison services, particularly in supporting the delivery of the new Community Return initiative. I believe the work plan outlined for 2013 is challenging, and I look forward to hearing of continued progress and success in future.