CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY

  

Thank you Chairman for giving us that overview of the significant work of the Parole Board during 2013.

 

This is the first year we have held such a launch of the Annual Report and I think it marks a fitting opportunity to acknowledge the important work and contribution of the Parole Board in advising the Minister for Justice and Equality on the future management of prisoners serving sentences of imprisonment greater than eight years.

 

This contribution is very evident from the Board’s Annual Report for 2013 which highlights how the Board’s total caseload in 2013 was 329, resulting in 95 recommendations.

 

Of course where parole is granted, this is temporary release, subject to supervision in the community by the Probation Service. This is not remission.

 

I note with interest that those who were granted supervised temporary release during the time period 2005 to 2013 had already spent, on average, 18 years in prison before release.

 

The public may be surprised that this compares to an average of just over 7 ½ years for releases dating from 1975 to 1984, just under 12 years for the period dating from 1985 to 1994 and just under 14 years for the period dating from 1995 to 2004.

 

So the length of time being spent in prison before parole is lengthening.

 

In all of this, I must say, that as Minister, it is welcoming to know that the recommendations on sentence management and early release which land on my desk have been subject to such careful process and consideration by an independent mechanism; and I thank all the members of the Parole Board for your efforts.

 

I have read with interest the detailed foreword from your distinguished Chairman and I note that the Board and the Secretariat have worked very hard to ensure reviews of prisoners are heard promptly and to encourage greater participation by prisoners in the Parole process.

 

I welcome the Board’s initiative in making a number of presentations throughout the year to groups of prisoners in 4 prisons to explain the parole process.

 

Reform

The launch of this report is timely. As Minister for Justice, I have committed to a programme of comprehensive reform in the administration of Justice in this state.

 

This includes reform in policing, such as establishing a new Independent Policing Authority, with legislation to be introduced in the Dáil shortly.

This includes reform in the courts, such as establishing a new Court of Appeal.

And this must include reform in the areas of prisons, sentencing and penal policy generally.

 

But I am not interested in reform for the sake of reform.

Reform is about making a real difference… about improving outcomes.

 

Of course, when it comes to discussing ‘outcomes’ in the context of penal policy, many questions emerge.

 

There are big questions; such as: how do we deliver on the societal need for punishment to be served, while at the same time seeking to reduce crime, through reducing reoffending and rates of recidivism?

 

There are more specific questions:

· When is a prison sentence warranted?

· When has a prisoner served long enough?

 

This last question is one which the Parole Board has particular expertise in addressing.

 

But many other questions are up for debate; and this is debate I look forward to fostering as we progress down the road of reform.

 

Penal Policy Review

As many of you will know that, in line with a recommendation of the Thornton Hall Review Group, the Penal Policy Review Group was established in September 2012 and was tasked with carrying out an all encompassing strategic review of penal policy. This review has involved wide-ranging consultation and will have implications for the future direction and implementation of penal policy in Ireland.

 

Next week I will publish its report and I look forward to both debating its findings and recommendations and moving on to implement important reforms.

 

I particularity look forward to bring proposals to Government on strengthening (and legislating for) the position and role of the Parole Board, which I will do in the near future, on foot of the recommendations of the Penal Policy Review

 

Research

In considering reforms and developments… in any area of policy… I believe we must take a pro-active approach in understanding and being informed by the most up-to-date and incisive research data and analysis available.

 

This was an approach I promoted in my previous role as Minister for Children & Youth Affairs, where I particularly championed the ‘Growing Up in Ireland’ longitudinal study.

 

The same applies when it comes to penal policy. I welcome the work by the Irish Prison Service, Probation Service and CSO to compile and provide better statistics on the prison population.

 

Similarly I commend the Parole Board on your approach in seeking to include three year statistics for period 2011 to 2013 in the Annual Report we are launching here today - the first time that such data has been provided by the Parole Board.

 

Alcohol & Drugs

In reading the Annual Report, I was taken by one set of statistics in particular which highlight how drink and drugs played a part in offences committed in over half of the cases reviewed by the Parole Board from 2011 to 2013.

 

This is yet further evidence, if any was ever needed, of the devastating impact of the misuse and abuse of alcohol and drugs.

 

Too many lives, too many opportunities are broken by addiction and resultant high-risk behaviour.

 

As Minister for Children and Youth Affairs I saw harsh reality of the influence of alcohol and drugs in child abuse cases and more of the children neglect cases.

Now, as Minister for Justice, I am seeing similar trends all over again in terms of the influence on alcohol and drugs on criminal offending.

 

Addressing the scourge of substance misuse is; and must remain, a priority for the whole-of-Government and for a broad range of services ranging from early intervention to family support. Nonetheless as Minister for Justice I am determined to work with the Agencies under my remit to address the issues involved.

 

In this regard, I am concerned by the findings of today’s Annual Report which refer to difficulties experienced by some prisoners in accessing therapeutic services and having no therapeutic work undertaken before their first review.

 

I know improvements are being made to deal with these issues and the Irish Prison Service will have my full support in implementing and introducing improvements and changes.

 

Conference

I wish to commend the Parole Board on their Inaugural Conference held in October, 2013 which was a great success. The theme of the conference was ‘Parole in Ireland – The Way Forward’. International speakers from Canada, Finland, Scotland and Northern Ireland informed the conference of how parole operates in their jurisdictions.

 

Victims

The discussions at the conference focussed on several aspects of the parole process, including the role of victims and the extent to which they should be involved in the process.

 

I note that an important consideration for the Parole Board is the involvement of victims in the review process. Victims can make a written submission to the Board in advance of a review. The Board members will take into consideration the views of victims and the impact on their lives prior to making a recommendation to me.

 

I wish to say the issue of victim representation on the Parole Board is one which I intend to explore in the context of bringing proposals to Government on strengthening (and legislating for) the position and role of the Parole Board,

 

In addition, I wish also to affirm my absolute commitment to strengthening supports for victims of crime. Central to this, I am determined to see the EU Directive on Victim Rights implemented in Ireland in 2015.

 

Prison Developments

I wish to refer to a number of other developments in the prisons area.

 

Central to helping offenders to reform is the need to provide modern and humane prison conditions that contribute to such rehabilitation. In that regard, a 40 month capital programme is being implemented by the Irish Prison Service to eliminate slopping out and to improve prison conditions in the older part of the prison estate. Work is continuing on the modernisation project at Mountjoy prison. "D" Wing is the last wing requiring refurbishment and work commenced on this in May of this year. As a result slopping out has ended in Mountjoy Prison and once the refurbishment project is completed all cells in the prison will have in-cell sanitation.

 

I am pleased to say that construction of a new prison in Cork began in January of this year with a completion date of the third quarter of 2015. The refurbishment project in Mountjoy and the construction of the new prison in Cork are testament to this Government delivering on its commitment in the Programme for Government to the modernisation of the prison estate, the elimination of slopping out and improving prison conditions and accommodation generally to a point where the focus can now be on the rehabilitation and reintegration of offenders where possible back into society and in to our communities. Prisoners are people - our people - and we must do what we can to support them and make our communities safer.

 

Co-operation

The work of the Parole Board is very much dependant on the support and active co-operation of a number of agencies in the criminal justice area who give of their collective expertise to inform the Board and contribute to the range of information that can impact on the Board’s recommendations. Like the Chairman, I would like to acknowledge that work and take this opportunity to thank the Irish Prison Service, local prison management, the Probation and Psychology Services, An Garda Síochána and the many other services involved with prisoners for the support given to the Parole Board and my Department on a daily basis. This support is crucial to the smooth running of the business of the Board.

 

 

Conclusion

I want to finish by again thanking the Board, its Chairman Mr. John Costello, members, and the staff of the Board for the important contribution you make in your work and to wish you well in the coming year.

 

Thank you.

 

ENDS