Check Against Delivery

Good morning ladies and gentlemen.

I am delighted to be here this morning to open the Inaugural Irish Criminal Justice Conference.

I would like to thank Maura Butler and the ACJRD for partnering with the Justice Sector in order to put together today’s event. Thank you also to Director-General Michael Donnellan, Governor Colm Barclay and Deputy Governor Frances Daly, and all of the Prison Service staff for hosting us here today.

It is very fitting that we are meeting to discuss penal reform in an operational and busy place of detention. We all encountered the security arrangements upon arrival this morning and of course these do need to be in place. But we should not allow the walls that surround these buildings create an illusion that prisons, and all detained here, are not part of our community. How we deal with offending, with those who offend, and those who are the victims of that offending, are inherent and interdependent aspects of our society.

The topic for today’s conference is Penal Policy Reform. I know that when planning this conference, those involved anticipated the work of the Penal Policy Review Group. As most of you know I launched the Group’s report on Wednesday along with Michael Whelan, the Chairperson of the Group. I would like to again thank all of the members of the group for their work and their advice.
The Group adopted a progressive but pragmatic approach and their recommendations will make a positive contribution to a more progressive penal policy in Ireland. Today’s conference provides an excellent and timely opportunity to debate the report’s findings and to consider how the Group’s recommendations can contribute to future policy and practice.

Penal Policy Reform
I do not want to simply repeat the remarks I made when launching the Review during week, but I do want to take the opportunity to reaffirm my overarching views on penal policy, which I believe must be focused on two key goals - punishment and prevention:
· There is a societal need for punishment to be served must be met;
· But there is also a societal gain to be grasped, in reducing crime through reducing re-offending.

What this also means is that while prisons will remain part of the answer, prison will not be the only answer:
· Serious offenders & serial offenders must continue to be imprisoned.
· But we must also move more towards the of supervised community sanctions for those convicted of lesser, particularly non-violent offences, which in turn can help in reduce reoffending, thereby reducing crime.

Today’s Conference
Delivering on this vision... and making change happen... will require the input of a wide range of organisations and individuals. That is clear from the Review Group’s analysis and it is why I welcome the diverse participation in today’s event.
As well as hearing the perspective of the criminal justice agencies, I am very pleased to see that presentations are scheduled from Deirdre Malone of the Irish Penal Reform Trust; and from Maeve Lewis of One In Four who will specifically address the needs of victims, something I have identified as policy priority.

Similarly, the workshops will provide an opportunity to tease out in more detail issues surrounding community return, employment on release and prisoner engagement and empowerment.

I welcome the inclusion of a workshop on criminal justice data.

A week a half ago, at the launch of the Parole Board 2013 Annual Report, I commended the inclusion, for the first time, of three year statistics for period 2011 to 2013. This included statistics, for examples, on how drink and drugs played a part in offences committed in over half of the cases reviewed by the Parole Board.

Those involved in the criminal justice system, would be very aware of the influence impact of alcohol and drugs on offending behaviour. But when presented with the hard numbers, we see not only the starkness of the problem, but an evidence base which can provide a foundations for an evidence informed response.

As I’ve said before. In considering reforms and developments… in any area of policy… we should always seek to be informed by the most up-to-date and incisive research data and analysis available.
I see this at the Cabinet table. It is much easier to make your case for increases investment to address a need improve outcomes, if you can prove that need, or the proven impact on outcomes, with hard data.

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 must apply when it comes to penal policy. I welcome the message contained in the Penal Policy Review which argues strongly for basing policy and practice on good data and evidence.

This will lead to design of more responsive interventions, sanction and supports; with a focus on better outcomes for both the individual who cone through the system; and for society in general.

I know that the area of research and data analysis in the criminal justice has received focus greater in recent years; including by many in attendance here today; and I thank you for your interest and commitment. Also wish to acknowledge the Central Statistics Office for their work in recent years with the criminal justice agencies, particularly the Irish Prison Service and the Probation Service, to improve the data available for policy makers and managers, as well as for all those looking for a better understanding of how the criminal justice system operates.

The availability of quality, relevant data not just aides processes of decision-making. It also greatly assists in communicating and winning acceptance of the reasons for change and reform. For example, I want us to move to a more outcome-focussed approach of reducing crime by seeking to reduce reoffending; which involves more use of supervised community sanctions; and we have the data to justify this.

As I pointed out at the Penal Policy Review launch, Recidivism Studies by Central Statistics CSO have shown that offenders who received either a Probation Order or a Community Service Order in 2007 and 2008 had a re-offending rate nearly 50% lower than those who had received a custodial sentence (41% vs 62%).

Communicating and winning acceptance of the need change is the first step to ensuring implementation; and have quality, accessible data will help us with this.

Implementation is critical.

It is entirely fitting then that today’s keynote speaker, Dr. Tom O’Connor, is addressing the question of change.
· How do we achieve change in criminal justice systems?
· Why do some programmes succeed, where others fail?
· How should we work together to improve outcomes for society?

Tom has had a long journey to join us here today and I am looking forward to hearing his perspective on these challenges, and what lessons we can learn from US experience in penal reform.

I think we can all agree that in Ireland, in the past, we have had plenty of reports, but not enough implementation.
I will not let this to be the case with the Penal Policy Review.
I will not let this be another Whitaker Report.
What is different now, 30 years on from Whitaker, is I believe the existence of the deep-rooted determination and political will to make change happen in penal policy.

This is already happening:
· The Criminal Justice (Community Service) (Amendment) Act 2011 requires the sentencing judge to consider the imposition of community service where a custodial sentence of 12 months or less is being considered.
· The Fines (Payment and Recovery) Act 2014 was signed into law by the President in April and implementation is proceeding.
· We are seeking increased interagency working involving the Irish Prison Service and Probation Service, in line with both their Joint Strategic Plan and their Joint Women's Strategy.
· The Community Return Programme, of reviewable temporary release, is already proving a success; demonstrating the potential of supervised community sanctions.

This will continue:
Earlier this week I set out in detail the steps I will be taking to respond to many of recommendations of the Penal Policy Review. I won’t repeat the detail; but to summarise some of my key responses:
· I intend to proceed with the Criminal Justice (Community Sanctions) Bill which will strengthen the legislative framework for supervised community sanctions.
· I have asked my officials to prepare proposals and options for Government on reform of sentencing policy, including mandatory minimum sentences.
· In addition, I have asked my officials to prepare proposals for Government on legislating for the review’s recommendation relating to Courts being required to set out in writing their reasons for imposing a custodial sentence.
· I have asked the Prison Service to bring forward feasibility proposal on a possible new open centre for women prisoners; and a sub-group is examining this.
· I reiterated my commitment to have the EU Directive on Victims rights implemented in Ireland in 2015.
· I will bring forward legislative proposals to Government to place the Parole Board on a statutory basis in the near future; and I will explore the issue of victim representation on the Board.

I see the Penal Policy Review as a call to action; and I am determined to act. I hope I can count on your active support and guidance as I progress down the road to implementation.

Before I conclude I would simply like to thank you all for your participation here today. The ACJRD has a long tradition of bringing together a wide range of officials, practitioners, academics, NGO's and many others with an interest in review and reform of the criminal justice system. It provides an excellent and informal forum for the exchange of ideas and experience and I would like to pay tribute to the contribution it has made over many years. I wish you well in your discussion and look forward to the conference outcome and to continuing to work with you all in making Ireland a safer and fairer place for everyone in our society.

Thank you.