Director of the Probation Service – Vivian Geiran, Director General of the Irish Prison Service – Michael Donnellan, CEO of Depaul Ireland – Kerry Anthony, Chairman of Tus Nua – Ray McGovern and invited guests.
I am delighted to be with you here today to launch the Joint Probation Service and Irish Prison Service Women’s Strategy 2014-2016, and the publication of the 2013 Annual Reports for both Agencies. I am especially pleased to launch the 2013 Annual Report of the community based organisation, Tus Nua, which I understand celebrated its tenth birthday last year.
It is appropriate that the Joint Women’s Strategy is being published in this, the week of International Women’s Day, which will be celebrated on the 8th March. The theme for the 2014 International Women’s Day is “Inspiring Change” and the publication of this Strategy is an acknowledgement by the Probation Service and the Irish Prison Service that they too are changing the way they address the particular needs of female offenders.
This Strategy sets out how the two agencies will work together with other statutory, community and voluntary sector partners to provide more tailored women-centred interventions, to reduce offending among this group, and improve opportunities for reintegration as well as achieving more positive outcomes generally. At its core is a recognition that most women who offend pose a low risk to society. However, they do, generally, have a high level of need. This high level of need can make the impact of imprisonment for a woman, her family and children disproportionately harsh.
The strategy contains four strategic actions which will be developed during the lifetime of the plan:
· Both Services, in co-operation with their partners in the Criminal Justice, Housing and Accommodation, Health and Education sectors, will develop and implement a gender informed approach to working with women offenders in custody and the community, which is informed by evidence and best practice.
· Improved outcomes for women will be achieved through strengthened strategic alliances.
· A range of options will be developed which provide an effective alternative to custody, enhance integration and reduce offending.
· Awareness and confidence amongst key stakeholders of the significant role of community sanctions in the reduction of re-offending will be actively promoted and developed.
Both Agencies recognise that the support of the community and voluntary sector is crucial to implementing the women’s strategy. Such an example is Tus Nua, which is a residential project for women offenders managed by DePaul Ireland, and funded by my Department through the Probation Service. Tus Nua works closely with the Irish Prison Service and the Probation Service to support women offenders to reintegrate into the community on their release from custody. I am pleased to receive their annual report for 2013 and to congratulate them on their achievement of supporting the reintegration of so many women through the provision of accommodation and other supports in a low threshold environment.
Tus Nua celebrated its tenth birthday in 2013, a remarkable achievement of itself in these times for which they are to be congratulated. The Chairman of Tus Nua, Mr. Ray McGovern, is here today and I would like to thank him and everyone involved for the work they do to better improve the lives of so many people.
It is appropriate in that context to link the publication of their 2013 Annual Report with the launch of the Joint Women’s Strategy. The commitment to improved services for women offenders through the actions outlined in the Joint Strategy is reflected in their work and services provided. Having read their annual report, it is fair to say that we can continue to expect the delivery of quality services for women offenders in the next ten years.
The women’s strategy derives from the work undertaken by the Probation Service and the Irish Prison Service in their Joint Strategy for 2013-2015 which I published last May. The Joint Strategic Plan is the realisation of commitments in the Programme for Government for better co-ordination that will ensure an integrated offender management programme.
Much work has been done since last May and the 2013 annual reports contain an update on the considerable progress achieved in delivering the seven strategic actions outlined in the plan. In particular, I want to applaud the success of the Community Return and Community Support schemes. I would like to congratulate both Services in exceeding the target for the Community Return scheme of 300 participants in 2013 with 396 structured releases, and the establishment of a new target of 450 releases for 2014.
The schemes, which are managed by a co-located Irish Prison Service-Probation Service Unit, is delivering benefits to the community in the form of unpaid work being done that is needed in the community. Release from prison onto the schemes is conditional on the performance of such unpaid work and continued participation by the offender. There are also financial savings achieved by the consequent savings in prison spaces. Even more important is the move away from releasing prisoners in an unstructured manner which these schemes facilitate. The temporary release under supervision of prisoners on to structured programmes is a considerable improvement in offender management which I am particularly happy to have initiated in my time as Minister for Justice and Equality.
I come now to the annual reports for each Agency. 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 work of the Service with offenders by holding them to account for their behaviour and, through a range of targeted interventions and programmes, bringing about positive changes in their lives with the aim of avoiding further offending.
The Probation Service has a lead role in reducing the level of crime in our communities through the provision of offender assessment to the courts, the supervision and management of offenders in the community, and working with those in custody to help their reintegration into society. Last year, there were 8,705 court referrals to the Probation Service, and Probation Officers supervised a total of 15,984 offenders in the community.
I am pleased to note that the Probation Service, in line with the Public Service Reform plan, is committed to reviewing work practices and ensuring that the customer is at the heart of service delivery. In order to optimise staff performance and to improve front line service delivery, the Service undertook a review of the dedicated assessment teams in Dublin and Cork resulting in the extension of the Court liaison team and Probation Service presence in the Criminal Courts of Justice.
The same day Probation Service Assessment initiative was extended to the Midlands Circuit Court and to Courts in Cork. During the year, the Probation Service focussed on a number of specific key priorities including new approaches to how it engages and works with women and young people and extending the suite of offender programmes and restorative justice initiatives.
In 2013, the Probation Service published a strategy on Restorative Justice – “Repairing the Harm: A Victim Sensitive Response to Offending”. This strategy commits the Service, through a framework of specific targeted actions to further develop the wider application of restorative practice. The Strategy builds on the achievements to date in the use of Restorative Justice Practice in its work in the courts and the community. I am glad that my Department was able to support the implementation of this strategy by the provision of additional funding to two community based organisations – Restorative Justice Services and Restorative Justice in the Community – which allows for the expansion of these programmes in Dublin and Cork.
The Probation Service is committed to working in partnerships with and forming strategic alliances with our partner agencies within the Justice family, other statutory bodies, and community organisations in order to achieve our shared goals. For example, a Senior Probation Officer and a Senior Social Worker from the Child and Family Agency now work in the National SORAM (Sex Offender Risk Assessment and Management) Office which is headed up and hosted by the An Garda Síochána, and is also resourced by the Irish Prison Service.
I am committed to pursuing to alternatives to custody and much is being done to ensure community service remains a viable option available for use by the courts. While last year’s figures indicate another drop in the number of orders made this needs to be viewed in the context of a similar reduction in Court ordered committals to prison reported by the Irish Prison Service figures for 2013.
I recently published the Fines (Payment and Recovery) Bill 2013 which will make community service an integral part of the fine recovery system. In time, I am confident that this will lead to an increase in the number of community service orders. I am equally confident that the Probation Service is well placed to facilitate the delivery of these orders.
I have also received Government approval for the drafting of the Criminal Justice (Community Sanctions) Bill 2014 and recently published the General Scheme of that Bill. The new legislation will modernise the legislative foundation of the Probation Service’s work and facilitate the effective and efficient use of community sanctions by the courts. It will also ensure that the courts have a wide range of appropriate options for dealing with persons who have committed minor offences. This should help to reduce the numbers of people unnecessarily imprisoned at significant cost to the taxpayer for minor offences.
The legislation will also take full account of the interests of victims of crime by making it a statutory requirement for the courts to have regard to the interests of victims when making decisions about community sanctions. It will also provide for external inspection of the work of the Probation Service thereby increasing transparency and accountability and further developing professional standards in the Service.
Moving now to the Irish Prison Service Annual Report, this sets out an overview of prison statistics for 2013 and reports on the significant progress made by the Irish Prison Service in the implementation of the 3 Year Strategic Plan 2012-2015. In particular, I am encouraged to note the first significant decrease in committals to prison since 2007 with 15,735 committals, a decrease of 7.6% on the 2012 total (of 17,026).
13,055 persons were sent to prison in 2013 compared to 13,860 in 2012, which represents a decrease of 5.8%. The daily average number of prisoners in custody in 2013 has also reduced from 4,318 in 2012 to 4,158 last year.
While the reduction in committals to prison and the resulting number in custody is welcomed, there were 8,121 committals for the non payment of a court ordered fine. I am strongly of the view that we need to keep the numbers of people committed to prison for the non-payment of fines to the absolute minimum. The Fines (Payment and Recovery) Bill, which as I have already said is before the Oireachtas, represents a major reform of our fine payment and recovery system and provides for the payment of fines by instalment and attachment of earnings.
When this Bill is enacted, it will be easier for people to pay a fine and where they fail to do so, there will be sufficient alternatives available to the courts to significantly reduce the need to commit anyone to prison for the non-payment of fines.
As I have said the trend of increasing committals to prison seems to have abated, moving the focus away from the constant battle against overcrowding and allowing the Irish Prison Service to focus on the implementation of its Strategic Plan. I am pleased to note the progress achieved by the Irish Prison Service in this regard.
Dedicated committals units have now been established in all committal prisons and appropriate assessment procedures to ensure that prisoners are accommodated according to their security status have been introduced. A national Incentivised Regimes policy has been introduced in all prisons to provide tangible incentives to prisoners to participate in structured activities and reinforce incentives for good behaviour.
Work has continued on the implementation of the Irish Prison Service Drugs Policy and Strategy to develop drug treatment services and enhance supply reduction measures across the prison estate. Drug free units have been established in the majority of prisons.
Action has been taken by the Irish Prison Service to reduce the number of prisoners held on restricted regimes with a view to ensuring that all receive, as a minimum standard, out of cell time of 3 hours per day. A high level group was established in July and as a result, the number of prisoners on a restricted regime across the system decreased by 32% from 339 in July to 228 by year end. In addition, the number of prisoners on 22/23 hour lock up decreased by 161 or almost 76% from 211 to 50 during the year.
In line with commitments in the Programme for Government, action has been taken to modernise the prison estate and to introduce in-cell sanitation in every locked cell. The refurbishment project in Mountjoy Prison continued in 2013 with the refurbishment of the A, B and C Wings now completed. In addition, the contract was signed to allow construction to commence on the new prison in Cork. Progress is being made with the number of prisoners having to slop out reduced from in excess of 800 to less than 500 by the end of 2013.
The Prison Service continues to work closely with the Inspector of Prisons and meetings take place with the Inspector throughout the year. You will recall in July I announced, based on the recommendations of the Inspector, that the immediate closure of St Patrick’s Institution was required. By the end of the year all sentenced juveniles had transferred from St Patrick’s Institution to a dedicated unit in Wheatfield Place of Detention on an interim basis pending the opening of new facilities in Oberstown. I can also confirm that the transfer of the 18-21 year old cohort to a separate dedicated unit has now been completed.
While the Prison Service and Probation Service are separate entities, the work they do is closely linked and has the same ultimate goal – to reduce re-offending leading to safer communities. Co-operation and working together is integral to achieving this common goal.
To conclude, I wish to congratulate both Directors and staff for your excellent work and commitment. I would like to thank you in particular for the work done in implanting a challenging and exciting joint strategic plan which is making a difference. I wish you continued success in that regard.