126. Deputy James Lawless asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the efforts he is undertaking to reduce the high rates of recidivism here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29727/18]
Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Charles Flanagan): My Department recognises that, in order to protect the public and reduce reoffending behaviour, a joined up approach to the management of offenders is essential. There are a number of ongoing joint initiatives and policies which my Department leads across the criminal justice agencies aimed at preventing crime, increasing detection of crime, rehabilitation and supporting desistance from crime by persistent offenders. The first Joint Strategy on the Management of Offenders was developed in 2016 between my Department, An Garda Síochána, the Probation Service and the Irish Prison Service and is being implemented on an ongoing basis.
Initiatives such as the successful Joint Agency Response to Crime (J-ARC) which involves these four bodies are a strategic response to the management of prioritised prolific offenders. The evidence-based, intelligence-led objectives of J-ARC target the 25% of recidivists responsible for 75% of crime; manage identified prolific offenders in order to reduce crime, and enhance public safety by strengthening the co-ordination and integration of policy, practice and research. In 2017, the Irish Prison Service in conjunction with the Probation Service and An Garda Síochána extended J-ARC to three new locations in Dundalk, Waterford City and Limerick City.
A further development in this area is the Youth Joint Agency Response to Crime Initiative (YJ-ARC) launched in 2017. This targets young people aged 16 to 21 years who are the most prolific in their offending and provides a structured co-ordination between the Probation Service, An Garda Síochána, Irish Prison Service, Irish Youth Justice Service (Oberstown campus), Tusla and the Department of Education and Skills.
This Government is fully committed to tackling all forms of criminality and this is evidenced by the increased allocations of resources provided by the Government in recent times. This includes a budget of €1.6 billion in 2018 to support ongoing Garda operations, such as Operation Thor which involves special targeted patrols carried out with the assistance of Garda National Support Services against criminal groups who are committing crime inter-regionally.
This Government will continue to support a high level of investment in the Garda workforce and ensure that the vision of an overall workforce of 21,000 by 2021 remains on track. Indeed, I recently announced the launch of the 2018 recruitment campaign for An Garda Síochána.
In relation to legislation, in 2015 the Criminal Justice (Burglary of Dwellings) Act was enacted which specifically targeted repeat offenders with provisions concerning bail and consecutive sentences. While sentencing within those limits is a matter for the judiciary, the Deputy may be aware of recent judgments of the Court of Appeal which set out principles to guide trial courts in imposing sentences for the offence of burglary.
It is also the case that the Irish Prison Service has, in recent years, placed a much greater emphasis on rehabilitative and support services to prevent reoffending and support desistance from crime. The Irish Prison Service provides a wide range of rehabilitative programmes that include education, vocational training, healthcare, psychiatric, psychological, counselling, welfare and spiritual services. Access to these services is a critical feature for offenders in addressing their offending behaviour. Greater emphasis is now placed on pre-release planning, putting supports in place and making links to services in the community for offenders leaving custody.
The year 2017 saw the continued successful implementation of the Joint Irish Prison Service & Probation Service Community Return Programme and the Community Support Scheme. These are structured temporary release schemes which provide for supervised community service and assist with reducing recidivism rates by providing additional supports for carefully selected prisoners.
Overall I can reassure the Deputy that it is a priority of the Government and the Department of Justice & Equality to reduce crime, and specifically reoffending by those previously convicted.