CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY
Speech - Minister for Justice & Equality, Charles Flanagan T.D.
Launch of the 2017 Probation Service and Irish Prison Service Annual Reports, Probation Service Strategic Plan 2018-2020 and Joint Irish Prison Service/Probation Service Strategic Plan 2018-2020
Haymarket - 25 June 2018
I am delighted to be here today in Haymarket to launch the Probation Service and Irish Prison Service 2017 Annual Reports and their strategy documents. It’s my first occasion to do this annual launch and indeed it is also my first visit to Haymarket. So first and foremost I would like to take the opportunity to acknowledge the work over the last year of Vivian Geiran, Director of the Probation Service, and Michael Donnellan, Director General of the Irish Prison Service, as well as that of the staff of both organisations.
As we all know, there has been huge progress in the Irish Prison Service in recent years and the annual report details some of the 2017 achievements as well as giving general information on the prison estate and reporting on the progress made during year two of the Irish Prison Service Strategic Plan 2016-2018.
The progressive work being done includes the closure of St. Patricks Institution. The last 17 year old left on 27th December 2017 which means children are no longer held in the adult prison system for the first time in Irish history. This is a huge achievement for all involved and is the fulfilment of a long-standing Government commitment.
The introduction of the Prison (Amendment) Rules 2017 in July 2017 was another another welcome development. It brings Ireland into line with the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners – (known as the ‘Mandela Rules’) in respect of the issues of restricted regimes and solitary confinement.
The annual report also shows the progress being made in the implementation of the Strategic Plan 2016-2018. This includes: the completion of a new training centre in West Dublin, the temporary closure of the Training Unit to develop a facility to accommodate older prisoners and the signing of an agreed protocol with the Probation Service to ensure that victims of crime receive appropriate information, support and protection.
Recruitment recommenced in 2017, with 85 new Officers joining the service. These new staff will ensure that the Irish Prison Service is renewed and has the capacity to continue to provide safe, secure custody and rehabilitation in all prisons throughout the country. Recruitment is continuing this year and it is anticipated that approximately a further 200 Officers will be recruited.
In 2017, in conjunction with the Probation Service and An Garda Siochána, the Prison Service extended the Joint Agency Response to Crime (J-ARC) to three new sites - in Dundalk, Waterford City and Limerick City. The J-ARC initiative has led to a more joined up approach on an inter-agency basis for the management of offenders. And recognising the benefits of the approach, Youth J-ARC was officially launched in June 2017. It is targeting the young people who are the most prolific offenders in their area, who are aged between 16 and 21.
The Annual Report also contains a detailed statistical report for the Prison Service and I would like to note some of the key figures for the year.
In 2017 there were 9,287 committals to prison. Reflecting the Fines Act which continues to have a positive impact on our prison committal numbers, that was a significant decrease of almost 40% on the 2016 total.
During 2017 there were only 2,261 persons committed to prison as a consequence of the non-payment of a court ordered fine, a number which, I am delighted to report, is a decrease of nearly 75% on the 2016 figure. The overall daily average number of prisoners in custody in 2017 was 3,680 compared to 3,718 in 2016. This represents a decrease of 1%. Finally, 2017 saw 750 people involved in the Community Return and Community Support Scheme.
Turning to the Probation Service Annual Report, firstly, I want to acknowledge some of Service’s key achievements in 2017.
Last year, it:
- Completed over 11,000 Probation Reports and almost 2,500 Community Service Assessments for the courts nationwide
- Worked with over 15,000 offenders referred to the Service
- Managed 2,200 Community Service Orders, totalling 336,573 hours work, equating to over €3 million of unpaid work
- Worked with 1,446 women offenders
- Supervised 572 young offenders, and
- Managed the 200 people who successfully completed the Community Return Scheme.
That’s an impressive list of achievements which I want to acknowledge, even as I move on to the other information the Probation Service is sharing with us today – which is about its Strategic Plans.
Firstly, the Service is presenting its own Strategy for 2018-2020 entitled “One Vision, One Team, One Standard”. It aims to build achievements to date and commits to the further development of a professional service that is effective in reducing the risk of re-offending.
Five strategic goals are identified: goals of promoting evidence informed practice, ensuring collaboration and connected working, valuing the importance of accountability, ensuring value for money and committing to continuous improvement in the organisation. These are strong goals and they will provide a clear programme of work for the Service.
But no service operates as an island and the Probation Service is very much in agreement with the Penal Policy Review Group’s view that penal policy is best created in an environment which prioritises interagency co-operation.
Both our services take that thinking on board and the Irish Prison Service and Probation Service are committed to working together – as is clear from thei
r new Joint Strategic Plan 2018-2020, which is also being launched here today.
Targeted at creating an integrated offender management programme, it is the third joint strategy between the Services and it sets out an ambitious vision.
This Joint Plan has 9 strategic actions covering the entire sentence, pre and post custody, actions which address many of the factors associated with a prisoner’s offending and the factors that are likely to increase the chances of their re-offending.
The overall aim of course is to reduce re-offending and improve prisoner outcomes, in order to make society safer. The successful resettlement of offenders is vital to a safe society and it demands an integrated approach to rehabilitative programmes and support.
I am very much looking forward to the successful implementation of the new Strategic plan, especially as I consider some of the successes of the previous one, which include ….
- over 2,000 prisoners being released on supervision back into the community in a structured manner by the end of last year – that was through the Community Return Programme which has been in place since October 2011, and which has a compliance rate of almost 90%.
- An innovative Social Enterprise Strategy being implemented to increase opportunities for employment for ex-offenders in the social enterprise sector, and also
- The continued engagement of ex-offenders as peer mentors for persons on temporary release.
Of course I also recognise the added value the voluntary and community sector provides in supporting desistence from offending and I am pleased to say that last year my Department through the Probation Service provided funding of €16.732m to a range of Community Based Organisations. These organisations, working alongside the Service, provide a diverse range of services, helping to address offender needs and in doing so reduce the risk of reoffending and also facilitate reintegration.
But from those offending to those offended against – we must also of course respect the rights of victims of crime.
I appreciate that criminal behaviour has a significant impact on both the victim and the wider community. And I am aware that victims of crime and their concerns are central to the Probation Service’s engagement with offenders in pre-sentencing reports, individual offender supervision plans, individual and group work programmes and all their risk management work.
The Service continues to liaise with a number of Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) working in the area and is further developing the information and support service for victims through its Victim Services Team.
I wish to acknowledge that the costs of offending predominantly impact on the most vulnerable in society. This of course includes the victims and their families; but sometimes we forget the impact on the families and children of the offenders. Children of prisoners are more likely to offend and experience imprisonment than other children.
The challenge for our Services in assisting a convicted offender to move away from crime is often considerable. Many prisoners have poor skills and little experience of employment, few positive social networks, severe accommodation issues and often all of this is complicated by drug, alcohol and mental health problems.
But the Government is committed to making our communities safer and better places to live. It is important that all the criminal justice agencies and community groups continue to work together in order to make our streets, homes, businesses and communities safer and more secure.
Finally, I want to again compliment both agencies and their staff on their work over the last year. I look forward to my Department working in collaboration with both organisations over the forthcoming year. In addition, I anticipate that both organisations will make further progress on the initiatives set out in the Probation Service Strategic Plan and the Joint Strategic Plan.