The Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence, Alan Shatter TD, today published the Joint Irish Prison Service & Probation Service Strategic Plan 2013 – 2015. This Plan sets out their Strategic Objective, in line with the commitment in the Programme for Government, to develop a multi-agency approach to offender management and rehabilitation from pre to post imprisonment in order to reduce re-offending and to improve prison outcomes. Minister Shatter also published the Irish Prison Service Annual Report 2012 and the Probation Service Annual Reports 2012.

Both organisations share the primary goal of maintaining public safety through the reduction of offending by those in their care. By adopting a multi-agency approach to effectively plan the release of offenders and to oversee their transition back into the community, as set out in this Strategy, they will be better placed to achieve this goal.

Welcoming the Joint Strategy, Minister Shatter said "The purpose of the Strategic Plan is to protect public safety by ensuring better co-ordination between the Prison Service and the Probation Service in implementing policies to reduce reoffending. Proactive sentence management and the provision of prisoner resettlement programmes are designed to help prisoners reduce their risk of reoffending and make a positive contribution to their communities. The Joint Strategy published today sets out how the two organisations will continue to develop and co-ordinate their activities, to further improve outcomes and to help create a safer and fairer Ireland."

This Joint Strategy complements the Strategic Plans of both Services, which were published earlier this year, and is the realisation of commitments given in both Strategies and in the Programme for Government to ensure better co-ordination with each other to create an integrated offender management programme. The recent success of the Community Return Programme bears testimony to the positive benefits which can be delivered for prisoners by enhanced cooperation and co-ordination between both Services.

The Strategy contains seven Strategic Actions which will be delivered during the lifetime of the Plan including;

· The Development of a Continuum of Sentence Management

· The roll out of Community Return

· Support for Short Term Sentenced Prisoners

· The introduction of Specific Reintegration Initiatives in Cork and Limerick

· The development of a Specific Strategy for Women Offenders

· The development of a Specific Strategy to address the needs of Younger Offenders, and

· Enhanced Co-operation Between both Agencies to Improve the Collation and Publication of Data and Statistical Information.

Speaking about the concrete and practical targets contained in the Joint Strategy, Minister Shatter stated "Among the Strategic Actions is the continued roll out of the Community Return Programme which has proven to be a great success among participants with many commenting on the supports and structure that it gives them on their release and how it has assisted in their transition back into the community. In addition, the Strategy will see increased co-operation with community and non-statutory agencies with the development of specific reintegration initiatives in Cork and Limerick and the development of specific strategies to deal with female and young offenders."

"I am certain that through greater collaborative working between the Irish Prison Service and the Probation Service the fruit of their combined efforts to address cycles of sustained offending behaviour will be far greater than working independently. Through enhancing case management and through care arrangements and by increasing the availability of structured release programmes in the community I believe we can improve resettlement and reintegration outcomes for prisoners" added the Minister.

The Minister also published the Irish Prison Service Annual Report 2012 and the Probation Service Annual Report 2012.

Irish Prison Service Annual Report 2012

Speaking about the Prison Service Annual Report Minister Shatter said, "The large number of prisoners being committed to custody remains a challenge, for the Irish Prison Service, even though prison numbers remained relatively static in 2012. The overall daily average number in custody was 4,318 compared to 4,390 in 2011.

The Minister added "Action continues to be taken to reduce overcrowding with the capacities of Mountjoy, Limerick and Cork prisons being significantly reduced and aligned to the recommendations made by the Inspector of Prisons. This has been possible due to the availability of structured temporary release schemes such as the Community Return Programme and the opening of new prisoner accommodation through the implementation of the 40 month capital plan which is well under way".

The Report shows there were 17,026 committals to prison in 2012, a decrease of 1.7% on the previous year and the first year on year decrease in committal figures since 2007. 13,860 persons were committed to prison in 2012 compared to 13,952 in 2011 which also represented a small decrease of 0.7%. The overall daily average number of prisoners in custody in 2012 was 4,318 compared to 4,390 in 2011.

Committals to prison under sentence for periods less than 12 months remains high with 11,844 committals to prison. Committals under sentence of less than 3 months increased by 10% on 2011, from 8,070 to 8,837. This includes 8,304 imprisoned for non payment of a court ordered fine.

Referring to the recently published Council of Europe Annual Penal Statistics which provide a global overview of the prison populations detained in penal institutions across Europe Minister Shatter said "It is disappointing to note Ireland’s committal rate (imprisonment of offenders) in 2011 was 380 per 100,000 people compared to a European average of 233. Our release rate was 376 per 100,000 – more than double the average of 165. These figures alone show that we are out of kilter with Europe and other parts of the world in this regard. They confirm that too many individuals are being sentenced to very short terms of imprisonment instead of alternative mechanisms being utilised."

The Prison Service Annual Report also contains an update on the Year 1 Implementation Plan for the Prison Service Three Year Strategic Plan 2012-2015 which was published by Minister Shatter in April 2012. Significant progress has been made in relation to a wide range of strategic actions.

Cost per Available, Staffed Prison Space

The average cost of an available, staffed prison space during the calendar year 2012 was €65,404, a very small increase on the 2011 cost of €65,359.

Introduction of New Prisoner Complaints

Following the Inspector of Prisons’ report in March 2012, a new complaints model is being introduced in the Irish Prison Service on a phased basis. The model contains four separate categories of complaints and three separate complaints procedures.

The Category A Complaints procedure was introduced with effect from 1 November 2012. Category A Complaints are the most serious level of complaints (assault, serious intimidation of prisoners by staff etc) and the new model provides for the independent investigation of complaints by external investigators on behalf of the Irish Prison Service.

Public Service Agreement 2010 – 2014

Significant progress has been made in implementing the Public Service Agreement in the Prison Service during 2012. The Task Review process continued during the year with seven reports being completed, agreed and implemented. In these seven locations this has resulted in a net reduction of 67 staff compared to previously agreed staffing levels and a reorganisation of staff grades within the sites generating annual savings of circa €6 million.

Probation Service Annual Report 2012

Speaking about the publication of the Probation Service Annual Report 2012, Minister Shatter said, "It is my belief that crime must be met by an effective proportionate sanction which for many offenders can be dealt with by community sanctions as opposed to custody. The report outlines the many alternatives to custody provided by the Probation Service. The Annual Report of the Probation Service sets out the work and performance of the Service during 2012 against the key objectives as outlined in the Probation Service Strategy Statement 2012-2014".

In November 2012, the Probation Service, in collaboration with the Central Statistics Office, published a recidivism research report. This study followed 3,500 offenders who had been subject to Probation Supervision in the community in 2007, for the following four years. The main finding was that almost 63% of offenders who had been on Probation Service Supervision had no conviction for a further offence committed within 2 years of the imposition of the Probation or Community Service Order.

During the year there were 8,790 referrals to the Probation Service from the Courts and in total the Probation Service managed over 15,000 offenders. On any one day, Probation Service staff are involved in the management of over 8,000 offenders in the community. The Probation Service is committed to working to achieve a safer fairer Ireland.

The Minister said " It is disappointing to note that 2,569 Community Service Orders were made in 2012 compared to 2,738 Orders in 2011. I want to ensure that greater use of community service orders is made. Under the Criminal Justice (Community Service) (Amendment) Act in 2011, judges are required to consider the appropriateness of a community service order in circumstances where an alternative sentence of imprisonment of up to 12 months would be considered. I am concerned that too many people are still being sent to prison unnecessarily at a time when the Probation Service has the capacity to take on more offenders".

Minister Shatter also said "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. We have already legislated to require judges to take a person’s financial circumstances into account when setting a fine. Work is now well underway on further major reforms to the fine payment and recovery system in Ireland. The Fines (Amendment) Bill, which I expect to publish this term will, when enacted, make it easier for people to pay a fine and where they fail to do so, there will be sufficient options available to the courts in the form of, for example, attachment of earnings, community service, or recovery orders to all but eliminate the need to commit anyone to prison for the non-payment of fines".

The Joint Irish Prison Service & Probation Service Strategic Plan 2013 – 2015 and the 2012 Annual Reports are available to download at www.justice.ie 

8 May 2013

ENDS