Check against delivery
Thursday, 22 September 2016
Good morning ladies and gentlemen. I am delighted to joint you to open today’s J-ARC seminar and to formally launch the Joint Strategy for the Management of Offenders, in which the J-ARC programme plays a key role. I want to thank the J-ARC Oversight Committee for the invitation and to especially thank Michael Donnellan and his colleagues in the Prison Service for welcoming me this morning to this excellent Prison Service training facility here at Beladd House.
It is impressive and heartening to see how much progress has been made since we launched the J-ARC programme less the 12 months ago. I want to pay tribute to those involved in all facets of the programme, and especially those driving the individual projects within ACER, Bridge and Strive. Thanks to the progress which has been made, we are now in a position to roll the programme out to three new locations: Dundalk, Limerick City and Waterford City. Today’s seminar is an important stage in planning for this roll-out, and for bringing on board the new teams who are going to take the project forward at these new locations.
At the programme launch last November, I spoke about how important initiatives like this are if we are to work together to make, and keep, our communities safe. It is therefore timely that today’s event is taking place during An Garda Síochána’s Safer Communities week, and its crime prevention message to the public to “Lock up and Light Up” as the days get shorter.
Another key message in this year’s campaign is that, thanks to very significant investments in policing, we have seen important progress in tacking burglary and property crime. Since the launch of Operation Thor last winter burglaries have fallen by a third compared with the previous year. In addition, new legislation has been put in place to target repeat burglary offenders and the Government is determined that there will be no let-up on the pressure which the Gardaí are bringing to bear on the organised gangs engaged in burglary, including the mobile gangs who have targeted rural communities in various parts of the country.
We also know, however, that breaking the cycle of offending is essential to reducing crime and protecting the public. And we know that a disproportionate amount of property crime, some 75%, is linked to 25% of offenders. Targeting this cohort of repeat offenders has the potential to significantly reduce the number of burglaries being committed.
This is the core impetus behind the J-ARC programme. By targeting, in a co-ordinated way, those prolific offenders who cause a high level of harm or disruption in communities, we can improve how we identify and change their behaviour patterns. While I believe that prison is the right place for serious and serial offenders, it makes sense to target identified prolific offenders with cross cutting initiatives like this one, that address criminal behaviour and the harm it does. In this was, offenders’ behaviour can be changed, crime reduced and public safety increased.
Very properly a process of ongoing evaluation is underway in relation to the J-ARC programme, but the feedback I am receiving from the Oversight Committee, based on the analysis of the operational teams, is that this approach is having the desired impact. Many of the persons being managed are desisting from offending, notwithstanding their having prolific criminal records. The impact of this for communities cannot be overestimated. Each such success story creates a reverse ripple effect, as crimes that might have occurred, persons who might have been victimised, and harms that might have been inflicted are all prevented.
Of course the potential benefits for the individual are also dramatic. Thanks to the support available under J-ARC, provided in collaboration with statutory, community and voluntary partners, new life opportunities are more possible. Opportunities for better personal health and welfare, for education and development, and for employment, all provide the prospect for a better life and better personal relationships. This in turn supports ongoing desistance.
It is also important that we recognise, as all of you know, that this is very difficult work. Many cases will need more input that others, and not all cases will be success stories. But the benefits for the community outweigh these costs. And where persons return to offending, by working more closely together as agencies we are better equipped to quickly and decisively respond, and to hold that person to account, using the appropriate mechanisms available. There is a well recognised connection between speed and certainty of a criminal justice response on the one hand, and its deterrent impact on the other. The management and co-operation structures which have been put in place strengthen our capacity to respond with that speed and certainty.
The other, broader success story of this project is the model it provides for practical joint working between criminal justice agencies in pursuit of a shared objective. Developing multi-agency solutions is imperative, and must become the norm, but we know it can be difficult to achieve.
That is why I am delighted this morning to also be launching the Joint Strategy for the Management of Offenders, a copy of which all of you will have received. This strategy has been drawn up by the Probation Service, the Prison Service and An Garda Síochána and with the full support of the Department of Justice and Equality. It recognises that in order to protect the public and reduce victimisation in Irish society, a joint approach to areas of our work is vital. Of course there has long been excellent co-operation between our agencies. This new Strategy not only documents that, but it also formally recognises that managing offenders is a joint responsibility, and it identifies means of further developing and deepening co-operation to that end.
I am also pleased to say that the Strategy document sets out a practical and action focused set of commitments, including in relation to the J-ARC projects, as well as the successful SORAM co-operation which has been in place for some time dealing with the management of sex offenders. I also welcome the emphasis on training and exchange of data under the strategy, and the steps in train to more efficiently manage court orders. The Department has been supporting steps to improve exchange of information by means of an E-JARC platform which is now available to a number of the JARC teams and which forms part of the development of a new Justice and Equality Hub
The Strategy also makes a clear commitment to joint working to respond to Domestic and Sexual Violence, and to protect and uphold the rights of the victims of crime. I know that a specific session on addressing the needs of victims of crime is scheduled for today, and I want to underscore how important it is that we work together to implement the Victims Directive and improve the experience of victims.
It is my vision to see the integration of services extend beyond collaboration between justice agencies. I would like to see a whole of Government approach developed that prevents an offending lifestyle from developing in the first place. The better use and earlier application of resources, resulting in better outcomes is a key recommendation from the Review of Penal Policy, and is something I intend to build on.
I will conclude on that point and simply wish to again thank everyone involved in this project, including those from the voluntary and community sector, and from those agencies outside of the justice remit. I am conscious that the individual projects are receiving support and assistance from many sources, which is greatly appreciated. I also particularly want to mention the work of the Regional Co-ordination Team, comprised of Rose Sweeny from An Garda Síochána, Andrew Brennan from the Prison Service, and Carmel Donnelly of the Probation Service. They have played a key role in liaising with each of the projects, and within their own organisations, to ensure a co-ordinated, well documented approach at each stage of the programme’s development. Finally, I would like to wish both the existing teams, and those in the new locations now coming on board, every success in their important work to improve the safety of our communities, and I trust you will find today’s seminar productive and stimulating .