Check against delivery 

 

Mountjoy Prison - May 15th 2017
 

Director General Michael Donnellan, Director of Probation Service Vivien Geiran, Governor Brian Murphy, colleagues and invited guests. 

 

I am delighted to join you all in this excellent new Work and Training Facility at Mountjoy Prison, to formally publish the Annual Reports of both the Irish Prison Service and the Probation Service. I would like to thank Governor Murphy for his kind welcome. 

 

Gathering today, we have an opportunity to look back at the year 2016 and to recognise the significant work that has been achieved by both Services. We also look to the future with the launch of the latest innovative collaboration between the Services, and my own Department, with the publication of “A New Way Forward – Social Enterprise Strategy 2017-2019. 

 

The Irish Prison Service Annual Report highlights that 2016 was another year of progressive change and modernisation for the Service. In June, I published a series of Strategies for the organisation including the new Strategic Plan 2016-2018 which sets out in detail the key strategic aims for the Service over the coming years. This Strategy builds on the successful implementation of the previous Strategy, which has already seen huge change across the system.  

 

The Annual Report includes a detailed progress report on the implementation of the new Strategy and I am pleased to see that huge progress has already been achieved. This includes the introduction of enhanced supports for staff such as the introduction of an independent counselling service, the commenced roll out of Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) and the appointing of additional Staff Support Officers. 

 

The first Prison Officer recruitment campaign since 2008 took place in 2016 with the first classes of Recruits now currently in training in the Irish Prison Service College. 80 recruits will join the Service this year with up to 250 additional staff joining in 2018.  

 

Staff safety continues to be a priority with a number of actions being progressed including the implementation of the recommendations contained within the recent State Claims Agency Report on Staff Assaults. 

 

Support for prisoners was enhanced in 2016 through the development of initiatives such as Social Enterprise projects, which I will mention in more detail later and initiatives to help prisoners develop and maintain relationships with their families. In addition, sentence management and pre-release planning continues to be improved and enhanced, resulting in better outcomes for prisoners. Much of this, I should point out, has been achieved through collaboration with other agencies and bodies such as the Probation Service. 

 

Early last year we saw the opening of the new Cork Prison, which can be seen on the cover of the IPS Report. This development, and other capital projects including those in Limerick Prison and here in Mountjoy Prison, are the realisation of the Government’s commitment and the commitment of Irish Prison Service management, to provide prison facilities that are built to the highest international standards and finally end the practice of slopping out in our prisons.  

 

The Report contains a detailed statistical report for the Prison Service and I would like to note some of the key figures for the year. In 2016 there were 15,099 committals to prison which I am pleased to note is a significant decrease of 12.2% from the previous year. The committals under sentence also significantly decreased by 13% which is also welcome. We must continue to ensure that violent offenders and other serious offenders serve appropriate prison sentences while at the same time switching away from prison sentences and towards less costly non-custodial options for non-violent and less serious offenders. 

Alternatives to custody continue to be pursued and legislation has already been passed. This includes the Criminal Justice (Community Service) (Amendment) Act 2011 which requires the sentencing judge to consider the imposition of community service where a custodial sentence of 12 months or less is being considered. 

 

I note that there were 8,439 committals for the non-payment of a court ordered fine in 2016 which is a decrease of 15% on the previous year. It is clear that the Fines Act which came into effect in 2016 is having an impact and further decreases are expected this year with provisional figures for the first quarter of 2017 showing decreases of up to 50% on the same period in 2016. 

 

Turning to the Annual Report of the Probation Service which sets out the work and the performance of the Service against the key objectives outlined in the Probation Service Strategy Statement for 2015 to 2017. The report clearly illustrates the enormous valuable rehabilitative work of the Service with offenders in our communities and with victims of crime. 

 

The Probation Service’s primary objective is to contribute to public safety, through the effective management and assessment of offenders in the community. Rehabilitating offenders to achieve and maintain positive change is at the core of Probation Service work.  

In 2016, the Probation Service managed almost 15,000 offenders in the community, completed over 10,000 assessment reports and over 2,300 community service assessments for courts nationwide. The Service also supervised over 6,700 new court orders for supervision, working with offenders to change their behaviours and become more law abiding citizens.  

The Probation Service continued to implement the Community Return Scheme, which affords offenders the opportunity to undertake unpaid work in the community, in lieu of a prison sentence while also learning valuable work and life skills.  

 

In 2016, the Service managed over 2,000 Community Service Orders totalling almost 325,000 hours of Community Service work carried out by offenders in lieu of almost 1,000 years in custody. This equated to €3 million of unpaid work for the benefit of the community, with communities across the country benefitting from this contribution of Community Service and Community Return work. Examples of Communities benefitting from community service are contained in the report.  

 

I am delighted to see an integrated model of Community Service introduced on a pilot basis in 2016. This followed a recommendation from the Strategic Review of Penal Policy (2014). Integrated community service allows for up to 1/3 of community service order hours, to be used to facilitate attendance at programmes and support services to address issues connected with a client’s offending. This initiative will be evaluated in 2017 and I look forward to the outcome. 

 

The Probation Service worked with 1,500 women offenders in 2016 representing almost 17% of all new court referrals. Women in the criminal justice system face unique issues in addressing and reducing their risk of reoffending. The experience in the Probation Service is that in general, female offenders pose a lower risk to society and have a higher level of need. The Probation Service offers a distinct response when working with female offenders. The overall approach having a particular focus on relationships, trauma, victimisation and parenting, delivered through a co-ordinated and multi-agency response. For example, the SAOL Project developed the BRIO programme (Building Recovery Inwards and Outwards) a two-year pilot programme, which is an opportunity for peer led experiential training in education, facilitation skills and delivery. This was offered to all female service users in Dublin as well as some in the women’s prison. 

 

The importance of community involvement in preventing re-offending is highlighted in the report. Funding of €10.7 million was provided through the Probation Service in 2016, to Community Based Organisations working with adults. A further €5 million in funding was provided by the Irish Youth Justice Service through the Probation Service to the Young Person Probation projects and I am delighted to see the work of the Bridge Project highlighted in this year’s annual report. I had the privilege of officially opening their new premises and launching their strategic plan last November. Bridge are one of the partners involved in J-ARC. 

 

One of the keys to the success of the work of the Probation Service is the nature of the Services’ interagency and multi-disciplinary approach. One of the best examples of inter-agency co-operation is the Joint Agency Response to Crime (J-ARC).This was established between An Garda Síochána, the Probation Service and the Irish Prison Service. The J-ARC initiative, which commenced in four locations in Dublin, was extended in 2016 to three additional locations, Waterford City, Limerick City and Dundalk. In addition to the expansion of J-ARC , the development of The Joint Strategy on the Management of Offenders 2016 – 2018, was formally launched back in September. This further supports and shows the commitment to joint agency working.  

 

Finally, 2016 saw the commencement of a recruitment process for new Probation Officers and the commencement of a recruitment process for a number of Community Service Supervisors in key locations nationwide. This recruitment, I believe will help the Probation Service go from strength to strength, provide them with a central role in our criminal justice system and.ensure the delivery of a high quality service, in the assessment and supervision of offenders. To date 30 new Probation Officers have been assigned.  

 

I am delighted to take this opportunity here today to also officially launch, the Joint Social Enterprise Strategy for the Irish Prison Service and Probation Service. I think it is important to acknowledge the wealth of collaboration that is taking place between the Prison Service and Probation Service at many levels. 

 

This close co-operation has been formalised in a Joint Strategy which is being delivered through many successful projects such as Community Return or Community Support. Other initiatives such as the J-ARC initiative have seen that collaboration, extended to other Justice agencies including An Garda Síochána and are helping to deliver a more integrated response to crime.  

 

These initiatives have given real options and opportunities to offenders and as a result our communities are safer. 

 

The launch of this strategy marks the beginning of a new and innovative way of tackling re-offending rates, creating safer communities and ensuring fewer victims. It also highlights my Department’s continued commitment to seeking alternative approaches to reducing recidivism rates within Irish society.  

 

This strategy is the result of 12 months collaborative work between the Department of Justice and Equality, Probation Service, Irish Prison Service and our community partners, which was overseen by a dedicated Social Enterprise Steering Committee. This committee was established in May 2016, for the purpose of developing and driving forward this strategy, which supports the development of social enterprises as a mechanism of providing sustainable employment for people with convictions under four strategic pillars. We look forward to the forthcoming National Social Enterprise Strategy, currently being developed by the Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs and thank this Department for their support and contribution to our own Joint Strategy. 

 

A Forfás Report into the social enterprise sector published in 2013 identified significant employment growth potential in social enterprises and included enterprises established to provide training and employment to ex-offenders as a recognised form of social enterprise. There are examples of successful social enterprises operating in Britain and other jurisdictions to support employment for people with convictions but as of yet, it remains a largely untapped opportunity here in Ireland. Today marks a significant step forward in this regard, the impact of which will be experienced at individual, family, community and wider society levels. 

 

 

As an initial social enterprise venture, I was honoured to be invited to officially open the Coffee Shop in Loughan House Open Centre in Cavan last July. This enterprise brings many benefits to the local community and to the serving prisoners alike, as it greatly assists their re-integration into society. I am also very pleased to see other examples of social enterprises operating within the criminal justice sector here today. I envisage that this Joint Strategy can only serve to strengthen the significant role you are playing in the supported employment of people with convictions.  

 

You will be aware that the Spent Convictions legislation was signed into law earlier this year by President Higgins. The effect of this will be that where persons are applying for employment, the person will not be obliged to disclose convictions which are more than seven years old. This will give people with a minor convictions history, the opportunity to get on with their lives. 

 

 

Finally, I wish to acknowledge the important work of the Social Enterprise Steering Committee on developing this Strategy and commend both Michael Donnellan and Vivian Geiran, for showing such leadership in this area. I would like also to acknowledge the contribution of Siobhan Cafferty who has played a pivotal role in the development of this strategy and to Domini Kemp, the entrepreneur and chef, who spearheaded a pilot Prison Entrepreneurship Programme – known as PEP – in Wheatfield Place of Detention between May 2016 and February 2017.  

This was an in-prison, classroom-based business development and monitoring programme.

I express my optimism that this new approach will bring added benefits, to our combined efforts to address re-offending rates. I look forward to seeing the key objectives contained within the strategy being progressed over the coming months and give my Department’s full support to this important initiative.  

Before I conclude I would like to again acknowledge the sad passing of Judge Michael Reilly, Inspector of Prisons in November 2016. Last Thursday evening we celebrated Michael’s life in the presence of his family, friends and former colleagues at a moving memorial service. Michael gave great service to the State and was widely respected by all involved in the criminal justice system.  

Finally, I would like to congratulate both Directors and staff for your excellent progress in and attitude to working with offenders both in custody and in the community. I would like to thank you all for the work done to reduce re-offending and create safer communities for all in society.