Check against delivery

I am delighted be here today to open, with Minister David Ford, the fifth Public Protection Advisory Group joint Probation Services seminar under the theme of “Working with and in Communities”. While this is my first occasion to be with Minister Ford at this joint seminar I am aware of the high level of co-operation across both jurisdictions which this annual event represents.

Since taking office as Minister I have maintained the close relationship with David Ford which was fostered with my predecessor to ensure that 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.

There is also a productive engagement across the full range of responsibilities in the criminal justice system and this seminar brings together representatives from police, prisons, probation and government Departments from both jurisdictions to share experience and learning in working with and in communities. Our experience shows that the extensive co-operation between the criminal justice agencies gathered here today has been successful in tackling crime, and bringing those who are involved in crime within our communities to justice. This co-operative cross-border approach has resulted in better outcomes for victims and the improved management and rehabilitation of offenders.

I am particularly pleased to be addressing this joint seminar for the first time in the year I published the Report of the Penal Policy Review Group which produced the first outline of a strategic penal policy for Ireland. Much of what is contained in that policy is reflected in the topics to be discussed today, stressing as it does the dual purposes of punishment and rehabilitation. I am committed to a programme of comprehensive reform in the administration of criminal justice in Ireland and I have confidence that reform in prison and penal policy will be achieved by the commitment and work of the people gathered here today and those you represent.

In order to respond effectively to changing patterns of crime, and societal needs within communities, a flexible and joined up approach is required by those engaged in the front line of our criminal justice systems. The report of the Penal Policy Review Group advises that penal policy is best created in an environment which prioritises interagency co-operation. I believe there must be a renewed focus on how State and voluntary agencies involved in the provision of housing, educational and health services can work with the criminal justice agencies, to contribute to the prevention of crime and reoffending.

The integration of offenders is a matter for the whole community and not just the responsibility of the Justice Sector. Other services have their responsibilities to assist persons reintegrate and resettle and eventually desist from a life of crime. Beyond this, I would also like to see the integration of services develop with a whole of Government vision that prevents an offending lifestyle from developing. The better use, and earlier application of resources, resulting in better outcomes is real reform in public services and is something I intend to build on.

The successful outcomes for offenders achieved by the cooperation and interagency work of the Irish Prison Service and Probation Service are very impressive. This commitment to cooperation is clearly set out both in their Joint Strategic Plan for 2013 to 2015, which aims to create an integrated offender management programme, and in their joint strategy for female offenders which has as it aim, as well as its title – “an effective response to women who offend”.

The transforming public services agenda, and the development of an integrated public service, will require senior managers to be pro-active in absorbing and implementing change. An excellent example of which can be seen in the Community Return programme developed and operated jointly by the Irish Prison Service and the Probation Service.

This is a unique initiative, whereby carefully selected prisoners can be given reviewable temporary release with the condition of completing unpaid supervised work within their community. I am pleased to receive today, from the Directors of the Irish Prison Service and the Probation Service, an evaluation of the programme, appropriately called “A Unique Opportunity”. The study, which covers all 761 participants from October 2011 to December 2013, highlights the positive impact of this kind of structured post custody release.

The evaluation shows that through interagency co-operation we can move away from the “revolving door” of prisoners going in and out of prison at high cost to society and the taxpayer. It demonstrates that the use of supervised community sanctions, with appropriate supports, not only sees punishment being served, but also leads to reintegration of offenders into their communities with a reduced risk of reoffending.

The seminar today provides an opportunity for you to consider examples of innovative practice and new approaches in how we can work together to reduce offending and support the victims of crime within our communities.

I would like to commend the Joint Agency Response to Crime Strategy currently being developed by An Garda Síochána, the Probation Service and the Irish Prison Service. This approach demonstrates the shared commitment of our criminal justice partners to work together in managing identified prolific offenders in order to reduce crime and ultimately create safer communities for us all. We will also be further informed by the presentation by the Police Service of Northern Ireland on a similar initiative, “Reducing Offending in Partnership” which reports on the progress made since the roll out of this initiative.

I am committed to strengthening support for the victims of crime. Restorative Justice is a victim sensitive response to criminal offending which is underpinned by victim awareness and empathy as well as offender accountability. I am delighted to note that on the agenda for today’s seminar, is a presentation from practitioners in both jurisdictions on the use of restorative justice practices and services within communities. This is particularly appropriate as we approach the end of International Restorative Justice Week.

Given its role in the community, the Probation Service has a long history of working in partnership with a range of community based organisations. Recognising the importance of community involvement in preventing re- offending, you will hear two presentations on how the Probation Board for Northern Ireland and the Probation Service work in partnership with the community.

To conclude, I wish to congratulate the Probation Service and the Probation Board for Northern Ireland on the launch of the 11th edition of the Probation Journal, which is an internationally acknowledged publication in contributing to the development of criminal justice policy. Of particular note in this year’s edition is an article publishing a memorandum submitted to the Department in 1941 by Probation Officer, Evelyn Carroll. It is worth mentioning this in the context of the year that the IPS and the Probation Service published their joint Strategy for Women offenders which I mentioned earlier. Ms. Carroll’s approach epitomises the values and foundation on which today’s approach is built. Given the year it was written, her memorandum is insightful and displays a depth of understanding about the nature of female offending and the interventions needed to improve outcomes that is still relevant and is recommended reading for today’s practitioners.

Finally, I take the opportunity to thank David for his strong and ongoing engagement with me in joint, cross-border working. I want to reiterate my commitment to continuing to work with David towards the greatest possible level of co-operation in policing and criminal justice matters, to reduce crime, manage offenders and support victims – in short, to seek to improve community safety for all on this island.

May I wish you all well, and look forward to the beneficial outcomes of today’s event reflected in your day to day practices within the varied elements of the justice system represented here.