Written Answers. - Prisoner Integration.
Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform
if the Government accepts the recommendations of the NESF report on the integration of prisoners; if it intended to implement the recommendations; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
A central focus of this report is on the barriers to reintegration and the need for targeted and coherent mechanisms to ensure that prisoners can be more effectively integrated back into the community. The report's overall conclusion is that what is required are key institutional mechanisms-models to spearhead and ensure effective follow-through on the report's recommendations.
Priority is being given to developing these mechanisms. A high level co-ordination group on prisoner reintegration has been established, and is chaired by an Assistant Secretary from my Department. This group is composed of senior officials from the Departments and statutory agencies who are identified in the report as having a role to play in progressing its implementation. The group will also be drawing on the expertise of the many community and voluntary groups that have experience of dealing with the issues raised by the report. The group is currently examining the areas for action highlighted in the report and will oversee the implementation of the appropriate recommendations.
The elaboration of positive sentence management, as a mechanism for effective integration and co-ordination of all services and programmes designed to meet the complex and diverse needs of offenders, is a key task for the Prisons Service. Important aspects of this task are the building of alliances and partnerships with the wider community and the development of a co-ordinated approach to the delivery of drug treatment, education, multi-disciplinary programmes – including offender behaviour programmes – and a more widely available CONNECT project. The appointment of a director of regimes in the Prisons Service has been an important step in this process and will provide an administrative driver for this task. It is intended to establish, in the very near future, a working group on positive sentence management within the Prisons Service comprising all the relevant agencies and bodies. This working group will be mindful of and take heed of best practice in other jurisdictions.
Inter-agency working, the multi-disciplinary team approach and the elaboration of positive sentence management are each concepts with which my Department, the Irish Prisons Service and the probation and welfare service are already fully familiar. The Prisons Services strategy statement 2001 to 2003, which was launched last October, sets forth in some detail the strategic work programme on which the service has already embarked to dovetail these concepts into the daily workings of the service and each individual institution. Indeed many of the actions highlighted by the NESF report had previously been identified by both the Irish Prisons Service and the probation and welfare service, and work on implementing them has been progressing.
The most noteworthy of these is the homeless offenders strategy team, HOST, a multi-agency accommodation directorate, which has recently been established, with the probation and welfare service as the lead agency and an assistant principal probation and welfare officer as director of the unit. The team has a national remit in relation to both offenders under probation and welfare service supervision in the community as well as those in custody and provides a focus for identifying and redressing pathways into homelessness associated with offending and imprisonment. Dublin City Council has already seconded one staff member to work on a full-time basis with the team. Agreement has also been reached and preparations are at an advanced stage for the secondment of a member of staff from the Irish Prisons Service to work on the initiative. Since its establishment, the strategy team has set about enhancing existing contact and liaison with the voluntary and community sector, in particular with organisations concerned with the provision of accommodation and related supports and services to prisoners and ex-prisoners.
I should point out that the probation and welfare service already works closely with and provides funding and management assistance to a wide range of voluntary and community organisations in developing and arranging projects and initiatives in the community to address offending and related issues. In the prisons and custodial institutions, many voluntary and community organisations are facilitated in their ongoing work with offenders through the probation and welfare service and the Irish Prisons Service.
The report also recommends the increased use of non custodial options, including the expansion of restorative justice projects, subject to evaluation. Restorative justice principles are central to the work of the probation and welfare service and are affirmed in the Children Act, 2001. Planning is under way to implement the Children Act, 2001, and the extended range of non-custodial options to be delivered by the probation and welfare service contained in it. I have also been informed by the probation and welfare service that evaluations have been completed in respect of the victim-offender mediation service in Tallaght and the Nenagh Community Reparation Project. The evaluation reports are presently being considered by the Service.
In relation to the recommendation on the provision of half way hostels, I would like to advise that Priorswood House has been redeveloped by PACE to provide additional capacity and an improved range of facilities for male ex-prisoners and offenders on supervision by the probation and welfare service. PACE was established in 1969 and works in partnership with the probation and welfare service and their agencies to provide a high quality resettlement service for offenders. In addition to supported accommodation at Priorswood House and training facilities at Santry, PACE, in association with the probation and welfare service, is currently endeavouring to develop a range of accommodation facilities for homeless female ex-prisoners in Dublin city. The probation and welfare service and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul have also put in place a six bed accommodation unit for homeless women leaving prison with an opening date before end of 2002.
Approval has also been given and funding allocated for research into aspects of homelessness among offenders to be commissioned by the probation and welfare service. It is an overall aim of my Department to provide and maintain a secure, efficient, and progressive system of containment and rehabilitation for offenders. The National Economic and Social Forum report provides a timely and well-researched contribution to the development of this policy aim.