I move. "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
The main object of the Bill is to give formal legal sanction to the "open" centre at Shanganagh, County Dublin, which was established in August, 1968. It was formerly Coláiste Moibhí and has extensive grounds. It is used for the accommodation of offenders either from St. Patrick's Institution, North Circular Road, Dublin, or from the prisons who seem likely to benefit from the conditions in operation there and who can thus be helped to become useful members of society. The whole atmosphere is based on trust. Movement about the house and grounds is not subject to close supervision. Games and recreation are adequately provided for. The youths sleep in unlocked dormitory cubicles. Letters and parcels are not opened; lengthy, unsupervised visits from parents and relatives are permitted and the staff wear ordinary clothes. The lack of formal restrictions is designed to foster a sense of responsibility and self-control. The number of youths in residence at any given time is small enough to make it possible for the staff to develop a reasonably close relationship with them. A house-mastering system operates under which certain officers accept special responsibility for groups of eight to ten youths. The object is to produce an atmosphere in which individual youths will be encouraged to discuss their problems with the officer concerned.
At times there has been difficulty in filling the available accommodation in Shanganagh owing to the lack of reliable material in St. Patrick's and the prisons. Not every prisoner has the basic stability to allow of his being sent to an open centre like Shanganagh. Careful selection beforehand is necessary in addition to a degree of supervision after arrival. The number of absconders since the centre was established has been quite low. Last year, for example, only seven out of 145 who were sent there absconded.
In the period immediately following the setting up of Shanganagh the main efforts were necessarily devoted to such matters as recruiting suitable staff, developing the necessary administrative facilities, establishing the broad features of the regime, clearing the ground and so on. Instruction in the three R's is given daily. A vocational teacher provides instruction in woodwork. An artisan officer is also responsible for this instruction and supervises in the woodworking shop and making of furniture for the centre and the execution of running repairs. A good deal of reconstruction has been carried out by the detainees. A painting, decorating and glazing shop has now been established and instruction in car maintenance and car driving will be given in the near future. Permanent workshops are expected to be erected by early next year.
A grading system has been introduced to provide incentives for the detainees and to reward their efforts rather than their accomplishments. Under this system marks are awarded at regular staff conferences for good conduct and industry and those who progress to the special grade receive additional privileges, such as extra home visits and attendance at football matches. The scheme has operated reasonably well so far. Another innovation has been the grant of a few days pre-discharge leave for longer term inmates. The leave is given at least a month before discharge to enable them to renew home contacts and to arrange for employment on release. It is of particular help to youths living outside Dublin. This concession, incidentally, has never been abused. Shanganagh is of course still at a developing stage and I shall not hesitate to introduce further departures from normal "prison" practice in the light of further experience if their adoption would be conducive to rehabilitation.
It is too early to attempt to assess the success of the Shanganagh experiment. Reconviction rates are being compiled but they will not have any real significance until figures for a minimum "follow up" period of two or three years become available. Apart from this, there are always limits to the extent to which reconviction rates can be reliably used to measure the results of particular forms of treatment. An offender who goes straight after release does not necessarily do so because of what happened to him while he was in custody and, on the other hand, just because an offender comes again before the courts it does not follow that he has gained no benefit from his treatment while in detention, especially when the reconviction is for a relatively minor or for an isolated offence. Moreover, in the case of Shanganagh in particular, it can be said that of necessity the offenders sent there are those who are more likely than the average prisoner to prove susceptible to reformative influences. But clearly the full potentialities of Shanganagh have not yet been realised and I expect to develop them a good deal further during the coming year.
To return to the Bill. The provisions relating to the setting up of Shanganagh are those in sections 2 to 5. Section 2 is the enabling section. It empowers the Minister for Justice to establish places of this kind with the object of promoting the rehabilitation of offenders. I may say that the provision of further places is not contemplated in the immediate future and certainly not an establishment of the size of Shanganagh. The provision is a very flexible one, however, and could be used for making available, say, a small house in the community where prisoners who had advanced to the stage of daily working release could be accommodated. A development of this kind was recently inaugurated in Britain on an experimental basis and is being at present assessed. I shall certainly consider a similar experiment here when the results of the assessment are available.
Sections 3 to 5 are consequential provisions and I do not think it necessary on this stage of the Bill to go into detail on them. Section 6 proposes to reduce the maximum age for persons who are remanded or committed to St. Patrick's Institution from 21 to 19. Under the present law offenders aged between 16 and 21 may be detained in St. Patrick's Institution. For some time past there has been a feeling that this age group, including as it does both young adolescents and experienced men, is too wide. As segregation is not possible in St. Patrick's, many of the young offenders are liable to come under the influence of some of these older inmates. I do not suggest that all inmates in the 19 to 21 group are in this category or, indeed, that the younger inmates are all inexperienced. In fact, some of the older inmates, especially those from country districts, are in many respects less sophisticated than the 16 and 17 year olds, almost all of whom have a number of previous convictions. Accordingly, though I am proposing that offenders in the 19-21 category who have to be sentenced to detention should now be committed to prison, I think it desirable to retain the power given by section 3 of the Prevention of Crime Act, 1908, of transferring from prison into St. Patrick's offenders in the 19 to 21 group who might be with advantage detained in St. Patrick's Institution.
Here may I digress for a moment to fill in some of the background to St. Patrick's. It was formerly a borstal institution to which offenders could be sent for a minimum period of two years, with provision for their earlier release on licence depending on their progress while in detention. In 1956 the institution was transferred from Clonmel to Dublin, because of the decline in the number of youths receiving borstal-type sentences. It was located in portion of Mountjoy female prison which was adapted for that purpose. The practice had always been to transfer from prison to the institution suitable offenders under 21 who were serving relatively short sentences, where it was thought that this might be to their advantage.
After the transfer of the institution to Dublin the number of those transfers increased substantially and the institution took on more and more the character of a centre for the detention of young offenders serving short terms. This trend was accentuated by the passing of the Criminal Justice Act, 1960. That Act empowered the courts to commit offenders in the 16-21 age group directly to St. Patrick's. The borstal-type sentence of two years then rapidly fell into disuse and the number of direct committals to St. Patrick's of offenders serving varying terms increased consistently until in the last two years or so the institution has often been full to capacity. The extent of the change is shown by the figures. In 1957 the daily average in St. Patrick's was 58. Last year it was 195.
The growing pressure on accommodation made it necessary last year to encroach further on the cell accommodation remaining for the female prison. With numbers remaining consistently at such high levels, it is difficult to provide adequate space for workshops and other facilities. Some relief will be obtained when Mountjoy female prison is transferred to premises which it is proposed to erect on the site of the present place of detention at Marlborough House, Glasnevin. Marlborough House is expected to be closed this year on the opening of the new preventive centre at Finglas. The erection of a female prison, which will in any event take some years to complete, will still not leave sufficient space for workshops and other training facilities in St. Patrick's if the present daily averages of 200 or so continue. However, the effect of reducing the maximum age for committal, as proposed in section 6, will be to secure a reduction, in the short term at all events, in the present excessive population. I say "in the short term" advisedly because, having regard to world trends, it would be unwise to ignore the possibility of a further increase in juvenile crime. I propose, with this possibility in mind, to continue the search for a large enough site convenient to Dublin, where most of the youths in St. Patrick's reside, and suitable for a modern detention centre for young offenders. It goes without saying that the cost of such a centre would be extremely high.
In the meantime, a sustained effort is being made to improve the existing facilities. I expect to appoint a psychologist shortly, whose main task it will be to prepare and supervise an educational programme geared to the individual needs of each inmate. The assembly of electric lamps commenced last December. An additional welfare officer and a clerical assistant are being recruited to the staff of the institution and I expect a considerable improvement in the employment prospects of many of the inmates—so important for their rehabilitation—to result.
Deputies will notice that provision is made in subsection (1) of section 6 for the section to be brought into operation on a date to be appointed by order of the Minister for Justice. The reason for this is that the proposed reduction in the age of committal to St. Patrick's is likely to lead to an increase of 50 or so in the number of young offenders in Mountjoy. To maintain the requisite degree of segregation between these offenders and the adult prisoners some reconstruction will be required. It is necessary to defer the coming into operation of this section until the work has been completed, which is expected to be some time next year.
Section 7 is designed to relieve any overcrowding that may occur from time to time in St. Patrick's. As I have mentioned, overcrowding first manifested itself two years ago. Though it was relieved temporarily by the establishment of Shanganagh, the position continued to deteriorate until by early last year the institution was again regularly becoming full to capacity. It became necessary to release inmates temporarily before their normal date of discharge in order to make room for fresh committals. The overcrowding could not have been relieved by transferring some of the inmates to prison because, as the law stands, a person sentenced to detention in St. Patrick's cannot be transferred to prison unless he is found by the visiting committee to St. Patrick's to be incorrigible or to be exercising a bad influence on other inmates. Subsequently, the numbers in St. Patrick's dropped but they have again increased substantially. Section 7 therefore proposes to empower the Minister for Justice to transfer detainees from St. Patrick's to prison during periods of overcrowding. Deputies will notice that it is provided that the section shall not operate except during such periods as the Minister, after consultation with the visiting committee, specifies from time to time.
I think I have covered the main provisions of the Bill but if there are any particular aspects which Deputies would like me to clarify, I shall endeavour to do so when replying.
I should like to avail myself of the opportunity presented by the introduction of this Bill to review the present position in relation to the treatment of offenders and to look ahead at probable future developments. Before embarking on the review, however, I think I should make a few preliminary points about which I believe there is general agreement. First of all, there is no easy or generalised solution to the problem of rehabilitating offenders. Many of those committed to prison, even the youngest, come from home or environmental conditions which are themselves conducive to criminal behaviour. Many are of low intelligence and a high proportion are educationally backward. They are often emotionally disturbed and socially inadequate. The great majority are sentenced to very short terms. The average term spent in St. Patrick's, for example, is no more than four months. The first few weeks are usually spent in "settling down" and during the last few weeks the offender is naturally inclined to think mainly of his approaching release. These considerations make it particularly difficult to provide beneficial training in any depth and the position is aggravated by the fact that offenders are committed and discharged on widely different dates. Moreover, the environment of an insitution is basically unsuitable for encouraging individuals to become adequate and responsible members of normal society. It is an entirely artificial community and the high degree of uniformity which is unavoidable militates against the development of reponsibility and of a person's individual character.
It is against the background of these practical considerations that one must measure the possibilities of progress. Nonetheless, in the last decade substantial improvements have, in fact, been made. The Criminal Justice Act of 1960, which authorised the grant of temporary release, is rightly regarded as having initiated a most significant step forward. Used at the beginning mainly in compassionate cases such as those arising on death or injury of an immediate relative, the temporary release provisions have been increasingly availed of to a highly sophisticated degree to aid rehabilitation by releasing prisoners towards the end of their sentences to take up employment. The establishment of the Inter-Departmental Committee on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders resulted in numerous reforms. The most notable were perhaps the appointment of prison welfare officers and the setting up of the corrective training unit and hostel in Mountjoy. The particular value of this committee was that it enabled the whole field of prevention of crime and treatment of offenders to be continuously appraised. It is this kind of continuous appraisal which in my opinion is necessary to keep conditions in this field in line with improving standards and informed opinion both within our our own community and internationally. This unobstrusive and unspectacular, but constant and critical, review has been maintained. A number of developments in the treatment of offenders in our penal institutions have been completed recently or are projected for completion in the near future and I shall mention the main ones, starting with those which concern the employment of prisoners.
The provision of suitable employment for persons in custody is, of course, one of special difficulty. Ideally, they should be given purposeful work suited to their individual capacities in conditions which will approximate to those in ordinary commercial employments. They should earn normal wages and their earnings should be used to maintain their dependants, pay for their own maintenance in prison and provide savings on discharge and, perhaps, a sum to be applied towards restitution in appropriate cases. For a variety of reasons this ideal situation has not been, and indeed cannot be, attained except, perhaps, in the wealthiest countries and then only with selected prisoners in specialised establishments. Many prisoners are unemployable by any commercial standard. Either they are simply disinclined to work or they have never been in regular employment or, very often, they lack the ability to adapt themselves to different work. The necessity to maintain security limits the kind of prisoners who can be employed in particular operations and affects also the lay-out of workshops, making it difficult to introduce modern manufacturing methods. The present gratuity paid to prisoners—7s a week—cannot be regarded as anything more than pocket money.
Because of the importance of employment and training as a factor in rehabilitation, special attention has been given to improving the present facilities in Mountjoy. Within recent months a training class in painting, wallpapering and glazing has been opened in the corrective training unit and is operating satisfactorily. After a short period of instruction the trainees are given work on the routine maintenance of the prison. A similar class is being provided in Shanganagh. Instruction in car driving and running repairs, which at present is given only in St. Patrick's, is being extended to Mountjoy and Shanganagh. Recently two further employments commenced in Mountjoy—rugmaking from remnants of sheepskins and slippermaking.
Perhaps the most potentially valuable development, however, is likely to result from a series of discussions with AnCO—the Industrial Training Authority—regarding the provision in our penal establishments of the most suitable training for industrial employment. At present active consideration is being given to proposals for three training courses. The first proposal is that training in semi-skilled metal work should be provided initially in Mountjoy and later for the younger offenders in St. Patrick's and Shanganagh though in a more limited way because of safety considerations. The proposed metal workshop would supply training in engineering skills (turning, milling, welding and grinding) of a semi-skilled nature. Another proposal is for a training course in site development for Shanganagh. This would cover such matters as trenching, drainage, surfacing, block laying and elementary building and would enable the boys to acquire a variety of constructional semi-skills in a short time. AnCO have also worked out a course in radio and television installation and the repair of common faults. The course has been specially designed for boys of low potential.
These are some of the principal projects in the employment field. These aspects of prisoner training will be further emphasised with the appointment of the psychologist who will be in a position to advise on the job attitudes of particular prisoners. The appointment of an additional welfare officer to St. Patrick's and of another to Mountjoy, with the necessary clerical assistance, and the introduction of welfare officers to Shanganagh, Portlaoise and Limerick will further improve the situation. I expect that the additional welfare officers and clerical assistants will have been recruited by the Civil Service Commissioners by the autumn. Already the contribution made by the present welfare officers is considerable and particularly in the provision of employment for suitable prisoners towards the end of their sentences. Last year, for example, 46 prisoners in Mountjoy were temporarily released to employment. The continued willingness of employers to take on prisoners depends to a great extent on the care spent beforehand in training and selecting prisoners who are likely to prove good and trustworthy employees. So far the conduct of prisoners who have been released to employment has, with a few exceptions, been quite satisfactory.
An extensive building and maintenance programme is in operation for the current year. The exercise yards in Mountjoy have been asphalted. The reception building there is scheduled for reroofing and for complete renovation this year. A new building will be needed to house the hospital and psychiatric unit so as to make room for the additional young offenders who, as I mentioned earlier, are likely to be committed to Mountjoy when the age limit to St. Patrick's is reduced under the provisions of section 6 of this Bill. In Limerick, the female officers' quarters will be demolished and replaced. In Portlaoise the recreation hall, which was extensively damaged during the rioting on 31st December last, is being restored. In Shanganagh, training workshops are scheduled for erection this year at the back of the main building. These will provide facilities for instruction in metal work and plumbing, car maintenance and repair, electronics, building construction and painting, papering and glazing.
I should like now to refer to the prison diet. I may say, at the outset, that I am satisfied that the present diet is wholesome and nourishing. It is of good quality and adequate in quantity. As Deputy Tunney, who is a member of the Visiting Committee in St. Patrick's Institution, said in this House last December, it is as good as that received by many a breadwinner in our community. Nonetheless it must be conceded that it is monotonous. The diet has been receiving particular attention in recent times and a number of improvements have been made. For example, in Mountjoy a bread slicing machine has been installed and heated food trolleys have been provided to keep the mid-day meal warm. The diet itself has been improved in a number of minor respects. Financial provision has been made this year for other improvements in the diet and the report of a dietician on the present diet is at present being examined. The kitchen equipment in all prison establishments during the present year will be extensively improved. In particular deep friers will be installed so that chips can be prepared and fish introduced into the diet.
The training of prison officers has also been receiving attention. Recently this training has been integrated with the general scheme for training operated under the supervision of the training officer for the Department of Justice. So far some 50 prison officers have been included in various courses. A suitable basic training course for recruit prison officers is being prepared and in this connection I have arranged for this officer to visit Britain to study the training for basic prison staff provided there. A course for the officers in Shanganagh is being arranged with the Department of Psychology, UCD. It will deal with the particular problems of young offenders. Other courses of this kind are proposed for officers in St. Patrick's Institution. I do not exclude the possibility of providing pre-service training for prison officers but normally prison officers are recruited in small numbers at irregular intervals and this makes the organisation of pre-service training impracticable except at extravagant cost.
Here may I say that the quality of any service is only as good as that of the people who provide it. The prison service is no exception. It requires of the staff qualities of sympathy and understanding and, where necessary, firmness and control. I believe our service has these qualities to a high degree and I shall endeavour to promote training schemes to develop them to the greatest practicable extent. The loyalty and discipline of the service was impressively shown towards the end of last year when disturbances occurred in Mountjoy and Portlaoise and I am happy to pay tribute here to all the officers concerned some of whom were injured.
Improvements in the administrative efficiency of the prison service have followed the recent setting up of a working group of governers and headquarters officers. The group have also the task of modernising the existing rules and regulations relating to prisons and the accounting instructions but, up to the present, they have concentrated mainly on the co-ordination of efforts to improve the functioning of the service in several important and practical respects.
Last year the Catholic chaplaincy services to the Dublin prisons and institutions was reorganised. A full-time head chaplain was appointed and also a full-time residential chaplain in Shanganagh. Last year, too, arrangements were made for clerical students from All Hallows, as part of their pastoral training, to visit Mountjoy regularly and to assist the head chaplain. We also have, of course, part-time Church of Ireland and Presbyterian chaplains. Whenever we have prisoners of other religions, their spiritual needs are catered for by visits from ministers of the religions concerned.
So far I have been dealing with institutional forms of treatment of offenders. The non-institutional forms, of which probation and after-care are the principal ones, have come into greater prominence in recent times, partly because of a feeling that first offenders, particularly in the younger age groups, should not normally be sentenced to detention and partly, perhaps, because the difficulties in the way of rehabilitation by institutional methods have become more widely recognised.
Last year the existing probation and after-care service was thoroughly investigated. As a result of that investigation I am satisfied that the service is inadequate and that it needs to be expanded considerably and thoroughly reorganised. The expansion will call for a big increase in the present staff in Dublin and for an extension of the official probation and after-care service to the country generally. New senior supervisory posts will be created and extra clerical assistance provided to improve the efficiency of the service.
A substantial increase in the number of welfare officers assigned to the prisons, St. Patrick's and Shanganagh, is also necessary and I have already given details of the additional appointments being made in these establishments. I attach great importance to a recommendation in the report of the investigation that a central headquarters should be provided for the Dublin service which will be reasonably convenient to the courts and have proper equipment and amenities for interviewing clients in private.
Notwithstanding that the existing Dublin probation service is understaffed, I would not feel justified in appointing the full total of additional probation officers in Dublin until proper office accommodation has been provided for them. Arrangements to provide this accommodation are now in train. In the meantime, the Civil Service Commissioners are being asked to recruit as soon as possible an additional eight welfare officers and four clerical assistants and I am having a senior welfare officer appointed to the Dublin probation service.
I must emphasise that these appointments are being used as an interim measure pending the provision of proper accommodation in Dublin for the probation officers and that I propose that by next year the existing staff of Dublin probation officers will be increased from six to 13, with eight additional officer doing probation and prison welfare work in the provinces. I have strengthened the headquarters staff in my Department to undertake the reorganisation and expansion of the service.
In the course of reorganising the probation and after-care service, I expect that every effort will be made to utilise voluntary workers to the fullest extent, subject to their being carefully selected and to their working under the supervision of the official welfare officers. I attach a great deal of importance to the involvement of volunteers in the work of rehabilitating offenders. Neither now nor in the foreseeable future can the community afford to put on a paid service to the extent that would be utilised if it were there.
Apart altogether from this consideration, it would be unwise not to use the services of dedicated persons in the community who are prepared to devote some of their time and talents to this form of social work. The value of volunteers has been increasingly recognised by probation officers in Britain and there are now over 1,200 working actively in conjunction with the probation and after-care service.
An excellent example of voluntary initiative in the field of after-care was the establishment last year of prisoners aid through community effort which is undertaking the running at Coolock, County Dublin, of what is usually described as a half-way house for prisoners who are homeless on discharge. An indication of the State's interest and support for this voluntary project is the provision of £4,000 in the current year's Vote towards the cost of reconstruction and adaptation.
As part of the reorganisation of the probation and after-care service, therefore, I look forward to a sustained effort to enlist all the resources of voluntary effort in the community in the work of rehabilitation and I propose, in particular, to develop a close liaison between all the various agencies involved. Already a number of voluntary bodies, but particularly two praesidia of the Legion of Mary in Dublin, are rendering valuable service on the probation side; and the Guild of St. Philip in Dublin and the Conference of St. Dominic in Cork, together with the Protestant Discharged Prisoners Aid Association, are doing equally valuable work in the field of after-care.
A problem that is occupying the attention of the Minister for Health and myself at present is the provision to be made for mentally disturbed people, particularly adolescents, who have in many cases come into conflict with the law. Some of them are drug abusers. The provision of suitable institutional accommodation for them presents serious practical difficulties. There is also the problem, which is the subject of public comment from time to time, of the absence of any arrangements for the detention of known aggressive psychopaths on discharge from prison. A characteristic of this form of mental illness is that the people concerned are superficially quite normal and may remain so for long periods.
In addition, there are a number of aspects of the operation of the present law relating to what are called "criminal lunatics" which appear to be in need of amendment. Accordingly, discussions are taking place with the Department of Health on the question of setting up a committee, representative of the Government Departments and other authorities concerned, to make an immediate study of these problems and suggest appropriate steps to deal with them. I expect that an announcement will be made on the matter at an early date.
Finally, I should like to say that I hope that what I have said will indicate that within our limited resources we are making a sustained effort to maintain our system for the treatment of offenders in line with acceptable international standards and with what we ourselves regard as consistent with the requirement of upholding each prisoner's dignity as a human person. If the results from time to time appear disappointing and meagre, this is not necessarily due to any fault in our particular methods. It is the lot of prison administrations everywhere and we can only do our best.
One thing, however, is clear to me and that is the need for having the maximum co-operation between all community agencies concerned in social work and education so that the conditions which breed crime are alleviated and the problem tackled at the pre-prison stage. I propose therefore to pay a good deal of attention to improving liaison between Government Departments, local authorities and voluntary organisations operating in this field with a view to ensuring the best use of the resources we have available for this purpose.
I commend the Bill to the House and ask that it be given a Second Reading.