Check Against Delivery

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am delighted be here today in Hillsborough Castle to open, with Minister David Ford, the fourth Public Protection Advisory Group joint Probation Services seminar under the somewhat challenging theme of "Complementary Contributions to Desistance". We have been at each of these gatherings previously and it is heartening to witness at first hand the level of co-operation involved across both jurisdictions.

Since taking office as Minister I have worked closely with David Ford in ensuring that the co-operation in policing and criminal justice remains a priority. The close relationship between the two police forces is well known and continues to be a key relationship in improving community safety on the island of Ireland. But there is also a productive engagement across the full range of responsibilities in the criminal justice system.

We face the same challenges in both parts of the island in combating crime, in managing offenders and supporting victims, and we will continue to work closely together in tackling them.

The public protection group provides a formal structure for the engagement of both Probation Services and a platform to strengthen engagement with the other important stakeholders involved in the criminal justice systems, North and South. There is no doubt that the public protection group has demonstrated that co-operation and communication between agencies and across jurisdictions can play an important role in making communities throughout Ireland safer.

I believe that co-operation and communication between agencies is an essential ingredient in the criminal justice system’s ability to contribute to desistance. Influencing offending behaviour can be successfully tackled only when the range of services an offender requires outside the remit of the criminal justice system are linked into it in an informed and cohesive way. Research supports the view that for offenders the transition from criminality to a productive and worthwhile lifestyle is not an easy task.  In order to desist, individuals must often make the difficult decision to separate themselves from existing social networks, roles and environments.  They must leave behind established lifestyle choices and entrenched cognitive and behavioural patterns and discover a new way of being. Today you will explore the complementary factors and interventions that can positively influence an offender’s journey to desistance and a crime-free lifestyle.

For instance, securing suitable accommodation is an important factor in supporting effective offender change management. As you will hear, it is important that a multi agency approach is adopted to addressing the accommodation need of offenders on release from prison or who are homeless and living a chaotic lifestyle.

Another area where it is important to develop and ensure a coordinated approach is in addressing offender mental health issues within the criminal justice system. At the seminar, you will hear from practitioners in the field of mental health, how we can best respond to the need of prisoners, and others for whom their mental health is a contributing factor to their involvement in criminality.

Best practice indicates that for young adult offenders to change their criminal behaviour, interventions containing flexible, supportive and rehabilitative provisions, need to be provided within the context of a co-ordinated youth justice system. The Irish Probation Service will give a presentation on developing a response for young adult offenders which will give an insight in to current thinking on providing a service that can better support young adults involved in the criminal justice system to make more positive lifestyle changes.

I note that the victims of the offending behaviour that is the focus of your efforts have not been forgotten today. The EU Victims Directive establishes minimum standards on the rights of victims, their support and protection. I am sure that I can say today, in this company, that we seek to go beyond the "minimum" for those who experience the criminal justice system at its rawest end.  While acknowledging the legitimate efforts to rehabilitate offenders, victim concerns must also be addressed.

To conclude, I wish to congratulate both Probation Services for the launch of the tenth edition of the Irish Probation Journal. These two organisations can be proud of the manner in which the Journal has developed since it was first produced in 2004 to become an acknowledged publication read today and referenced by criminal justice practitioners, academics and policy-makes throughout the island of Ireland and beyond.

And finally, I want to thank both organisations again for the invitation to join you today and providing the opportunity to address this important gathering of people who have a real interest in, and ability to, influence offending behaviour and our response to it.

I hope you enjoy the day and I look forward to hearing more of your deliberations in due course.