Check Against Delivery

Launch of the Inspector of Prisons’ Report:

“Culture and Organisation in the Irish Prison Service – A Road Map for the Future”

Tuesday 3nd November 2015

 

Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen.

I am delighted to be here today to launch the Inspector of Prisons’ Report, titled “Culture and Organisation in the Irish Prison Service – A Road Map for the Future”.

I very much welcome this Report. It has the potential to enhance the lives of everyone in Irish prisons – staff and prisoners alike. It offers a road map for the future organisational and cultural development of the Irish Prison Service. And it will make a positive contribution to the reforms already under way in the Irish Prison Service.

But first, I would like to thank the Inspector, Judge Michael Reilly, and Professor Andrew Coyle who assisted the Inspector, for all of their hard work in bringing this Report to fruition. Their efforts are very much appreciated. So also are the contributions of those who met with and made submissions to the Inspector. I think the breadth of contributions indicates the sincerity of all those involved in prison administration in making the prison service better for everyone.

Judge Reilly has the benefit of an insider’s knowledge coupled with an outsider’s perspective. This is the first time that an Inspector of Prisons, who is independent of the Government, has embarked on this type of review into the prevailing culture of the Irish Prison Service. His report focuses on two key issues, the structure of the Irish Prison Service and the training and development of personnel. The report contains many recommendations; and it seeks to do as its title says: that is provide a roadmap for the future.

 

The future of ‘the Prison’

Before I comment further on the report itself, I think it is worth reflecting more broadly on that theme of a roadmap for the future.

As Minister for Justice, I see the need for a more nuanced and differentiated approach to penal policy.

Prison works in some cases, but not all.

I am clear in my view that prison must not be the only solution when it comes to those convicted of lesser, non violent offences, when we know that supervised community sanctions can help in reducing reoffending, thereby reducing crime.

 

But I am equally clear in my view that serious offenders and serial offenders must continue to be imprisoned.

Public safety is of paramount importance and I am absolute about this. Society expects and demands nothing less.

But in expressing this view; and reaffirming the importance of our prison system, I am also conscious of another relevant question: What should a 21st Century prison system look like?

Is it a place where we send offenders - at a high cost to the taxpayer - where, for some, their underlying offending behaviour, not to mention any addiction or mental health problems, is often exacerbated, not eliminated.

Of course it shouldn’t be that.

But what should it be?

What is the vision?

I suppose that, in one sense, this is the key question being asked by the report being published today.

I refer specifically to the idea of a 21st Century prison system, because the prison institution as we know it is still very much a creature of Georgian and Victorian times.

I further refer to that word ‘institution’ because the very concept of ‘the institution’ is one which is anathema to much of modern-day thinking.

In this country we are all too aware of the problems of ‘the institution’.

Recent Irish history is littered with the scandals of ‘the Institution’: from mother and baby homes; to industrial schools; to Magdalen laundries.

Even today, there is increasing shift - both in policy terms and in public mindset - away from ‘the institution’.

You will hear more and more people expressing a wish to be cared for at home in their older years, not in a nursing home.

Public policy provides for more care in the community of those with mental illness or serious disability; moving away from larger psychiatric hospitals or care homes.

In this shift from ‘the institution’ – where stands the Prison?

The prison will continue to be a reality.

As I’ve said serious offenders and serial offenders must continue to be imprisoned.

But maybe what needs to change is how we think of ‘the prison’ and how we manage and run ‘the prison’.

I don’t think I’m being incorrect and unfair in saying that very often the thinking and culture of an institution can be slow to change; and that is probably ever more true in ‘the prison’ - the most closed of institutions.

If the report which we are publishing today helps us change that thinking and culture; resulting in a more effective and safe prison system, then it will have achieved quite a lot.

 

Progress to date

However, I should point out that there been much progress to date in terms of change in the prison system; and I would commend the Irish Prison Service on implementing these changes with the support of staff.

· We have effectively ended the ‘revolving door’ in Irish prison policy, with our prisons now below capacity and offenders no longer being released due to the simple lack of a place.

· We are eliminating ‘slopping-out’.

· We have completed the modernisation of the accommodation wings in Mountjoy.

· The new Cork prison will be ready for occupation early in the new year.

· A significant redevelopment project for Limerick is planned.

· We are well on our way to fulfilling the commitment in the current Programme for Government to end the practice of sending children to St Patrick’s Institution.

· We are currently examining options to improve the detention and rehabilitative systems for female offenders.

Following on from my comments on the increasing shift from the institution to the community, we also see the continuing development of the Community Return Programme; which is an incentivised scheme for earned temporary release under which carefully selected offenders can be granted structured temporary release in return for supervised community service.

In addition to Community Return, the Community Support Schemes have been set up in several of our prisons in an attempt to address the recidivism levels of those serving sentences of under 12 months from those catchment areas. Over 800 persons have engaged in this Scheme. About 70% of these successfully completed their offender management plan with the balance returned to custody to complete their sentences

I might also mention that the Fines (Payment and Recovery) Act 2014 is due to be finally implemented and commenced in January and this will lead to a reduction in the number of committals to prison on short sentences for non-payment of fines.

 

Report

This progress provides an important context to this report by Judge Reilly.

However, for all that is being achieved, I accept that we all have a continuing road to travel on the journey together towards realising a 21st Century prison system.

This report, as I’ve stated, seeks to offer a roadmap.

This report is undoubtedly critical of several aspects of the culture in certain areas of the prison service – deficiencies in the line management structure in many prisons, poor internal audit controls, poor supervisory practices, a disconnect between those working in prisons at all levels and those managing the service and so on.

The report also expresses serious concerns regarding ‘gang culture in our prisons.

Yesterday, as I’m sure you are aware, I joined the Garda Commissioner as she launched Operation Thor - a new anti-burglary and anti-crime strategy. This includes a new targeted approach to disrupting criminal gangs - an effort backed by investment by Government in both overtime and new high-powered vehicles.

Just as I believe that there should no place for gangs operating in the community; I also believe that there should be no place for ‘gang culture’ in our prisons.

I have asked the Director-General of the Irish Prison Service to provide me with a comprehensive response to the report’s concerns in relation to ‘gang culture’ in our prisons.

While highlighting challenges, I welcome the fact that the report also acknowledges the many positive aspects of the service, including the dedication of its staff. In particular, chapter 8 of his report lists the great strides in the prison service in recent years, including the reduction of overcrowding and ‘slopping out, a new complaints procedure for prisoners and so on.

The report is an important contribution to the reform of the criminal justice system. I agree with Judge Reilly that the culture of an organisation can be the strongest driver for positive change or the strongest inhibitor against it. I really believe that everyone in the Irish Prisons Service wants to make it the best service it can be and to address the deficiencies in its culture which this report identifies. Moreover, I think there is already a momentum for change in the service and that, given a fair wind, this report can serve to make the Irish Prison Service a positive exemplar for all public service organisations in this country.

In terms of the next steps, it is my intention to bring this report to Cabinet in coming weeks, firstly for information and at a later stage for decisions to be made. But in the interim, I want to ensure that key stakeholders have a chance to reflect on the report and provide feedback.

 

Concluding Comments

Judge Reilly has done good work and I am glad he accepted my invitation in September this year to continue his distinguished service as Inspector of Prisons until January 2018. I look forward to his continued proactive approach to the role. To emphasise my commitment to the Inspector’s role, I have agreed to assign an additional senior office to his office to assist him in his task.

So let me conclude by thanking you for your attention. I want to finish by again thanking Judge Reilly and Professor Coyle for the important contribution they have made to the debate on penal reform.

Thank you.