The need for the Minister for Justice and Equality to outline what structures he has in place to deal with sexual offenders in our prisons and in our communities and to what extent co-operation from the offender is mandatory. 

Senator Deirdre Clune

Unfortunately, Minister Shatter cannot be here today due to other commitments but he has asked me to thank Senator Clune for raising this important issue and for providing the opportunity to outline on his behalf the structures in place within our prisons and in our communities to manage convicted sex offenders.

It is important to emphasise, in the management of sex offenders, that the focus of the work is multifaceted and involves both the assessment of the risk of re-offending and the monitoring of compliance with relevant court supervision orders.

While in prison, a convicted sex offender can avail of relevant treatment to address their offending behaviour. The treatment of sex offenders is centred in Arbour Hill Prison where the Building Better Lives programme (BBL) is undertaken. The programme comprises group interventions in three modules and allows responsive and flexible delivery of rehabilitation services which take account of individual risk, needs and capacity.

The Baseline Project is a joint initiative between the Northside Inter-Agency Project (NIAP) and the Irish Prison Service Psychology Service which provides group programmes for young offenders with a history of sexually harmful behaviour. It also continues work into the community for those with convictions for sexual offences. The group programmes are rolling programmes with new participants joining and others leaving groups in response to progress.

Not all sex offenders are suited to group programmes and other prison-based therapeutic interventions include one-to-one interventions. Sex offenders also engage with other services in order to address other related needs, such as mental health needs for example. The Probation Service engages with sex offenders in individual work throughout the course of their sentence. This work primarily focuses on reducing the risk posed by the individual following release and also on any child protection issues which may arise.

Mandatory participation in treatment programmes is a concept that is often mooted and that is to some extent understandable. On behalf of the Minister, I have to say however that mandatory participation in any form of intervention or rehabilitation is not a realistic option. While offenders can be supported and encouraged in their efforts to address their offending behaviour, ultimately experience has shown that successful completion of an intervention programme depends on the willing participation and commitment of appropriately motivated individuals. The challenge therefore is to use a range of channels to motivate and incentivise as many offenders as possible. This includes individual counselling which plays a vital role in the change process.

That said, the Sex Offenders Act 2001 introduced a wide range of measures aimed at reducing the risk to the public from convicted sex offenders. Those measures include notification requirements, often referred to as the "Sex Offenders' Register", sex offender (prohibition) orders, and post-release supervision. Compliance with these requirements is mandatory and a failure to comply can result in further prosecution for a sex offender.

Part 5 of the Sex Offenders Act provides for the post release supervision of a convicted sex offender by the Probation Service. The period of supervision is set by the court and is based on consideration of the offender’s rehabilitative needs and the need to protect the public from serious harm. The period of post release supervision can be subject to additional conditions of counselling or treatment (section 30).

Section 99 of the Criminal Justice Act 2006 provides that sex offenders can be sentenced to part suspended sentences. Such sentences involve an offender serving a period of time in custody followed by a suspended portion in the community. The sentencing judge can impose conditions of Probation Service supervision and/or treatment to this Order.

In managing these cases, the Probation Service works closely with the Gardaí and other partner agencies to ensure the cooperation and compliance by the offender with supervision in the interests of community safety.

The Probation Service co-facilitates Safer Lives, a sex offender's treatment programme, in three locations for moderate to high risk offenders and this programme is based on the Building Better Lives Programme, a strengths based therapeutic approach.

The House may also wish to note that the Probation Service and the Probation Board of Northern Ireland have an all-island approach to working with sex offenders. Both agencies use the same risk assessment tools and undertake joint training. They also have a protocol for the sharing of information on the management of sex offenders.

Much work has been done since 2009 when the detailed Discussion Document on the management of convicted sex offenders was published on the Department’s website. This document, prepared by a High Level Group involving the Garda Síochána, the Irish Prison Service and the Probation Service, examined the arrangements then in place for the management of sex offenders with a view to strengthening inter-agency cooperation and further enhancing public protection and safety. Their remit included a review of the procedures and legislation relating to the assessment, monitoring and supervision of convicted sex offenders.

I appreciate the opportunity to have outlined for the House, on behalf of Minister Shatter, the structures that are currently in place. I hope this is helpful in assuring the House in that regard and we can all recognise the valuable work being done by the agencies involved to comprehensively manage sex offenders and the issues that arise within our prisons and in our communities.

Thank you.