24 September 2015

 

Chairperson, Director of the Probation Service, Director General of the Irish Prison Service, invited guests: I am very pleased to be here at the launch and presentation of the Biennial Annual Report of the Irish Association for the Social Integration of Offenders (IASIO) for 2013 and 2014. I would like to both thank the Chairperson Mr. Pat Lynch and the Board of IASIO for their kind invitation to attend and address you here, to day.

I think that it is important that I acknowledge and celebrate the excellent work carried out by IASIO over the past 3 years with offenders, and the contribution of Chairman, Board, CEO and staff of the organisation.

It is recognised that many offenders come from difficult backgrounds and have complex needs such as alcohol or drug problems, literacy skills, and social skills. These people require a broad range of support and assistance in the community if they are to make better choices. I totally endorse this “rehabilitation and reintegration” approach, which was identified by the Penal Policy Review Group as a core principal and significant factor in reducing crime. Like them, I feel that such aims are best achieved, as far as possible, in a non-custodial environment. I therefore take this opportunity to emphasise the important role the community plays in working with offenders, supporting their rehabilitation, re-integration and engagement in a positive lifestyle.

In April 2012, the Linkage, Gate and Resettlement programmes were, transferred to the newly formed Irish Association for the Social Integration of Offenders. Since then the organisation has continued its work of providing valuable services and supports to both offenders and re-offenders. These supports make it more likely that these persons will not reoffend and will end up making a contribution to their families and communities.

 

It is accepted that specialised initiatives and support services are often best delivered within the community itself by IASIO and other community-based providers. Since this Government came into power we have achieved much progress in pursuing alternatives to custody and providing a range of non-custodial options for the Judiciary. As a result, prisoner numbers are reducing from all time highs and we steadily travelling the “alternative” route. The Government, through the funding provided by my Department to the Probation Service and the Irish Prison Service supports and enables community based organisations to develop and deliver services in communities which enhance the work of the Probation Service in changing offending behaviour.

I was delighted to meet the Board of IASIO earlier this morning and to learn more about the work of the organisation. The case studies included in the report clearly demonstrate the real benefit of the work of IASIO, in providing support and hope to those who wish to change their offending ways. A change in a person’s offending ways has a direct effect on reducing the number of crime victims. While it is well known that I am particularly committed to strengthening support for the victims of crime, as Minister for Justice and Equality, I would also like to oversee a system which aims to reduce such numbers by a reduction in crime. My presence here today is an endorsement of the work done by both criminal justice agencies and community organisations in challenging offending behaviour which has at its centre the needs of victims to feel safer in their communities.

The largest of IASIO’s programmes - Linkage - is a training, employment and guidance service, funded by the Probation Service. This programme supports offenders to integrate into the working community. It must be recognised that finding employment is one of the main challenges that offenders will face when they seek to turn away from crime. The work of Linkage Training and Employment Officers, in helping offenders to make a range of informed and supported choices are the first steps in offenders being capable of seeking and obtaining employment.

The Report also highlights the work of IASIO through the GATE and Resettlement programmes which are both funded by the Irish Prison Service. The Resettlement and Gate programmes provide practical assistance and support to offenders as they make the often difficult transition from prison, on returning to live in the community. These supports enable prisoners to acknowledge and tackle their offending behaviour and develop their skills and potential.

The Resettlement Programme provides personal support and assistance to newly released prisoners from Mountjoy Campus, Castlerea Prison, Cork Prison and Loughan House in accessing essential services such as housing, addiction counselling and other services.

The Gate Programme, which is available to prisoners on the Mountjoy Prison Campus, West Dublin Prison Campus and Portlaoise Prison Campus assists prisoners to develop plans which will enable them to better re-integrate into the working community following their release. The programme includes providing a guidance and placement service within the prison, and identifying training, education and employment opportunities appropriate to the particular prisoner.

IASIO is jointly funded by two agencies of my Department, the Irish Prison Service and the Probation Service. Both of these agencies work closely together adopting a multi agency approach to offender management and rehabilitation. They share a common goal of maintaining public safety through the reduction of offending by those in their care, whether the offenders are placed directly under Probation supervision by the Courts, or sentenced to custody. I am firm supporter of interagency work in achieving effective outcomes.

I would also like to commend the work of staff in the Probation Service and Irish Prison Service in relation to their work with offenders. While this work is often difficult and challenging it is also rewarding.

I am very glad to be able to say that IASIO received over €3.4m in funding from both the Probation Service and the Irish Prison service in the two year period covered by the report. Indeed, almost 11m is provided annually by my Department, through the Probation Service to Community Based Organisations.

Finally, I would like once again to congratulate IASIO on their work and achievements over the past 3 years. I wish IASIO well in the future, and look forward to hearing of the continued success of the Board of management and staff of IASIO, as they support the work of the Probation Service and Irish Prison Service to provide offenders with the opportunity and help to make positive changes in their lives, and achieve even better outcomes, which will in turn contribute to a safer and more secure society.