Check Against Delivery

 

Monday 18 May 2015

 

Director of the Probation Service, Director General of the Irish Prison Service, and invited guests,

 

I am delighted to be with you here today to see the publication of the Annual Reports for 2014 of both the Probation Service and the Irish Prison Service and to launch the Joint Probation Service and Irish Prison Service Strategy covering the two years 2015 to 2017.

 

I am particularly pleased that this is the second of such strategies reflecting as it does the close relationship between the two Services and their integrated approach to offender management and rehabilitation.

 

My view on penal policy is simple:

 

I believe that serious and repeat offenders must continue to be imprisoned.

There is a societal imperative underpinning this goal.

 

But I equally recognise the proven potential of supervised community sanctions to reduce reoffending, thereby reducing crime.

 

Effective penal policy must tick many boxes.

· Ensuring justice is served; and seen to be served

· Protecting communities,

· Reducing reoffending thereby reducing crime;

· Rehabilitating offenders.

 

We therefore need a balanced and coordinated approach to offender management, recognising the need for a continuum of sanctions and services.

 

Interagency working is critical.

 

The joint strategy I am launching here today recognises that.

 

It sets out an integrated approach to offender management and rehabilitation from pre to post imprisonment designed to reduce re-offending and improve prisoner outcomes. It builds on the progress made by the first joint strategy which delivered a multi-agency approach to planning the release of offenders and overseeing their transition into the community. The progress made by this joint approach is impressive and is proof that the fruit of combined efforts by criminal justice agencies to address cycles of sustained offending behaviour are greater than would otherwise be achieved.

 

These two Services working together are aligned with the focus of rehabilitation and reintegration contained in the report of the Penal Policy Review Group. The strategic objectives of both Services are underpinned by the purpose of making Ireland a safer and fairer place which is the aim of an effective penal policy. A penal system which does not aspire to a reduction in offending behaviour as a key goal is failing in its purpose.

 

The strategy I am launching today contains Eight Actions designed to achieve a reduction in re-offending and improve prisoner outcomes. One of these actions involves the two Services in promoting an integrated response to crime. The Joint Approach to Reducing Crime (JARC) is an inter-agency response to and co-operation in the management and rehabilitation of offenders.

 

Although I am talking about the Irish Prison and Probation Services today, I would like to highlight this action as it involves another criminal justice partner. The Probation Service and the Irish Prison Service have signed a Joint Agency Response to Crime Protocol with the Garda Síochána. Their aim is to target, in a co-ordinated way, those prolific offenders who cause a high level of harm or disruption in communities. I am certain that, in collaboration with statutory, community and voluntary partners they will achieve an effective outcome. It makes sense that by targeting the identified prolific offenders with cross cutting initiatives like this one, that address their criminal behaviour and the harm it does, crime will be reduced and public safety increased.

 

Drugs & Alcohol

When I launched the Penal Policy review last September I commented on how one of the key factors which contribute to offending behaviour is the misuse of drugs and alcohol.

 

We know too well 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.

 

 

Previously, as Minister for Children and Youth Affairs I saw the 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.

 

A previous survey conducted by the Probation Service, published in 2012, indicated that the number of adult offenders on probation supervision who had ever misused drugs and/or alcohol was very high at 89%.

 

Tackling drugs in prison and among offenders on probation must be a top priority. Enforcement is one approach which we are pursuing. But improved addition services for offenders are also vital.

 

With this in mind I have given my approval to the commissioning of a Review of Drugs and Alcohol Services to Offenders.

 

I am therefore particularly pleased to be able inform you that I have approved the proposal prepared (at my request) by the Probation Service, in consultation with the Irish Prison Service, for a new Review of Drugs and Alcohol Services to Offenders.

 

This review will examine and set-out a pathway for the provision of improved alcohol and addiction services for offenders.

 

This review will also involve the HSE who are the principal funder for drug and alcohol services.

 

The final report is to include a number of recommendations based on the evidence collected and I look forward to working with my Ministerial colleagues in addressing the addiction needs of offenders, both in custody and in the community, in a comprehensive and integrated way.

 

Can I turn now to the annual reports for each Service.

 

Probation Service Annual Report

The Probation Service’s annual report sets out the work and the performance of the Agency against the key objectives outlined in the Probation Service Strategy Statement for 2012 to 2014. The report clearly illustrates the enormously valuable rehabilitative work of the Service with offenders in our communities and with victims of crime.

 

The Probation Service’s primary objective is to contribute to public safety through the effective management and assessment of offenders in the community. Last year, the Probation Service managed over 15,000 offenders, completed 12,000 assessment reports and received over 7,000 Court Orders for probation supervision.

 

Given its role in the community, the Probation Service has a history of working in partnership with a range of community based organisations. Many Probation Service clients lead chaotic lives and have complex needs such as addiction, which I have already mentioned, as well as mental health issues, homelessness and social disadvantage. The Probation Service recognises that it cannot address all of these needs alone.

 

The importance of community involvement in preventing re- offending is highlighted in the report, with funding in 2014 being provided to 61 Community Based Organisations. I read, for example, that the PACE Foothold Floating Support Service provides intensive one to one support for “high risk high need” sex offenders. The aim of the service is to reduce the threat these individuals pose to society by teaching them to manage their behaviour without causing any further harm. In 2014 the Probation Service also funded the DePaul organisation, enabling them to open the Tus Nua Abigail centre which provides supported accommodation to women leaving prison.

 

In working with offenders to change their behaviour, the victims of crime and their concerns are central to the Probation Service. I am happy to know that a Victim Services Team is available on a regional basis providing a single point of contact for victims, engaging with them and responding to their concerns. In September 2014 the “Victim Services Team Operational Procedures” issued to all Probation Staff, setting out the role of the Victim Services Team and the management of initial contact and engagement with victims.

 

Irish Prison Service Annual Report

Moving now to the Irish Prison Service Annual Report, this sets out an overview of prison statistics for 2014 and reports on the progress made by the Irish Prison Service in the implementation of their 3 Year Strategic Plan which concludes this year. I also noted that the report made reference to the action plan put in place to ensure that the recommendations of the Commission of Investigation into the Death of Gary Douch, relating to the Irish Prison Service, are being implemented.

 

Reading the Report I saw that there were 16,155 committals to prison in 2014 which was an increase of 2.7% on the 2013 figure. The increase is attributed to an 8% increase in the numbers committed on sentences of less than 3 months specifically those committed for the non-payment of a court ordered fine.

 

Today I wish to reaffirm my commitment to eliminate, in so far as possible, the option of imprisonment as a sanction for non-payment of fines.

This will be achieved through implementation in full of the Fines (Payments and Recovery) Act.

 

Once the significant changes required to the fines system are implemented, the effects of this legislation on the number of committals to prison for the non-payment of a court ordered fine should be seen. I understand that the system will be operational from October this year.

 

13, 408 persons were sent to prison in 2014 compared to 13,055 persons in 2013 which also represented an increase of 2.7%. However, I noted that despite the small increase in the total committals to prison the overall daily average number of prisoners in custody has continued to fall from 4,158 in 2013 to 3,915 in 2014, a decrease of 5.8%.

 

I note, that excluding fines, committals under sentences of less than 12 months has seen a decrease of 14.5% since 2013 which also represents a 29% decrease in the last 4 years.

 

This reduction in those serving shorter sentences is to be welcomed. Imprisonment should be reserved for serious and serial offenders including those convicted of murder, sex offences, gangland offences and offences against the State.

 

It is clear from the statistics in the Report that the trend of increasing committals and prison numbers has broken. I think the fact that there are almost 900 less prisoners in our prisons today than there were in February 2011 is hugely beneficial to the prisoners who are accommodated there, to the staff that work there and to the public who are safer as a result of a Prison Service which is better able to deliver rehabilitative services to prisoners without the problems associated with overcrowding.

 

Looking to the future, a new Strategic Plan is being drafted for the Prison Service for the three years 2015 to 2018. Change and reform will continue to be a central component of this new strategy. Much of the implemented change in the Prison Service has been required in response to the economic situation experienced in recent years. Not all change however is about resources and finance.

 

As you know, I have asked the Inspector of Prisons to conduct a review of the Irish Prison Service and the Inspector will be reporting to me in September. The purpose of the review is to carry out an assessment of the current culture within the Irish Prison Service and the extent to which it facilitates or hinders its development.

 

I look forward to receiving the Inspector’s Report which will inform the next 3 year Strategic Plan which will focus on building relationships, rehabilitative measures, efforts to reduce re-offending, and the further development of penal policy to realise the vision of a safer community through excellence in a prison service built on respect for human dignity.

 

The 2014 Annual Reports published today highlight the work being done by both Services. However, although separate entities, under the joint strategy they share Eight Strategic Actions for the next two years committing them both to:

· Ensure that all sentenced prisoners can be assisted in their rehabilitation and community reintegration throughout their sentence;

· Build on the success of the Community Return Programme of earned early release.

· Provide support for short sentenced prisoners through expanding the community support scheme already in operation

· Engage with service users to reduce the risk of re-offending, creating safer communities through improved service provision;

· Enhance pre-release planning for prisoners in collaboration with statutory and voluntary service providers;

· Promote social inclusion through better responses to the needs of women prisoners and members of the travelling community;

· As already mentioned, promote a joint integrated responses to crime piloting a Joint Agency Response; and

· Respond to Victims

 

With all of this going on, I look forward to further progress being made. To conclude, I would like to congratulate both Directors and staff for your excellent progress in and attitude to working with offenders both in custody and in the community. I would like to thank you all for the work done in implanting your joint strategic plan to reduce re-offending and create safer communities for all in society.