I know the Deputy has an interest in this area and he has been tracking it in a variety of ways through parliamentary questions in recent times. He is familiar with the fact that there is a wide range of rehabilitative programmes, including educational and vocational training programmes, available in prisons.
The records I have currently do not allow us to differentiate between first-time offenders and repeat offenders. The figures in the latest records available, which are right up to date, show that an overall total of 1,490 offenders participated in education activities at the time the figures were compiled. This represented 37% of the prisoner population at the time. An average of 1,052 prisoners engaged in vocational training activities each day in June, and this represents 27% of the average prison population in that month. A prisoner may participate in more than one activity.
The development of prisoner programmes forms a central part of the Irish Prison Service’s three-year strategic plan for the period 2012 to 2015. There is a clear commitment in the strategy to enhance sentence planning. It is important that we have much more sentence planning than heretofore. This includes the delivery of the services. When I launched the report of the Parole Board of Ireland the week before last, one of the points the chair and members of the board made to me was that if one wants to engage prisoners in rehabilitation within the prison setting and involve them in training and vocational courses, one needs to have discussions with them. They need to be aware of the courses and encouraged to participate in them. This would help reduce the level of violence. It would also mean that, with the approach we are taking to remission, involvement in the programmes would be helpful.
Additional information not given on the floor of the House
The guiding principles that underpin the prisons' work and training service are to make available work, work training and other purposeful activities to all those in custody. Training activities are chosen to give as much variety as possible and to give opportunities for those in prison to acquire practical skills which will help them secure employment on release.
One hundred and ten work training officers have recently been appointed and assigned to areas such as catering, laundry, industrial cleaning, industrial skills and gym. This brings the total number of work training officers in place to 308.5. In addition, there are also six full-time industrial managers with four acting industrial managers in the prison estate. This will allow the Prison Service to build on the opportunities available to prisoners in the work and training area for the years ahead.
The Deputy will be aware of the Government's commitment to capital investment in the prison estate, and that, despite the current economic difficulties, building work on a new prison in Cork is well under way, as well as the refurbishment and renovation of the D wing, Mountjoy Prison. In addition, a business case for the Limerick Prison project is currently being considered by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. When these projects are finalised, they will allow the Prison Service to provide further enhanced education opportunities for prisoners.
In addition to seeking to draw on best practice in adult and further education in the community, there has been a lot of curriculum development over the years that is specific to prison circumstances, such as courses on addiction, health issues and offending behaviour. Other areas where there has been significant progress in prison education are in physical education, the provision for higher education, the arts and preparing prisoners for release and supporting their transition to life, and often to education, on the outside. A top priority for the Prison Service is ensuring help for those with reading and writing problems, and peer mentoring programmes are currently active in all of our prisons.
The Prison Service has also been expanding the number of accredited courses and opportunities available to prisoners in work training in recent years. Enhanced partnership arrangements with accrediting bodies such as City & Guilds, the Scottish Qualifications Authority, SQA, and the Guild of Cleaners and Launderers and the centralising of co-ordination and quality assurance arrangements have enabled us to extend the number of available courses and activities with certification.
On committal, all prisoners are interviewed by the governor and are informed of the services available in the prison. At this point, prisoners may be referred to services or they can self-refer at a later date. Where governors consider, on the information available, that a prisoner needs a particular intervention, they will initiate a referral.