Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Questions (163)

Seán Ó Fearghaíl


163. Deputy Seán Ó Fearghaíl asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the current level of supports available to juveniles and young persons leaving the prison system, particularly in the areas of reintegration-rehabilitation, education, employment and residential accommodation; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23906/14]

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Written answers (Question to Justice)

I can advise the deputy that supports available to juveniles and young persons leaving the prison system can arise in a variety of ways under the auspices of the various services provided by my Department. These include the following: supervision, in the form of community return or community support, such supervision is undertaken by the Probation Service; training and rehabilitation within the prison system, for prisoners as a continuing component of their post-release programmes; structured temporary (or early) releases from prison granted for the purpose of undertaking educational and/or training courses or programmes or other rehabilitative opportunities (such as a hostel placement, non-residential placement, participation in a community project, or other support).

A wide variety of agencies are involved in all of these areas - both from the statutory and voluntary sectors. I might also mention that my Department and the Garda Síochána operate youth diversion programmes in urban and rural communities throughout the State which are aimed at diverting those at most risk of offending away from crime and thus intervening before the youths concerned end up either under supervision by the Probation Service or in the prison system.

While the specific focus of the Deputy's Question is the post-release training and rehabilitative services for persons whose sentences have ended, I should also mention that the Prison Service provides to those in custody a wide range of rehabilitative programmes, which have the dual purpose of providing prisoners with purposeful activity while serving their sentences and encouraging them to lead non-offending lives on release.

The development of prisoner programmes forms a central part of the Irish Prison Service Three Year Strategic Plan 2012 - 2015. There is a clear commitment in the Strategy to enhance sentence planning through Integrated Sentence Management and the delivery of prison based rehabilitative programmes such as education, work training and resettlement programmes. There is a Guidance Counsellor available to all young persons in prison. This teacher's role is to make contact with outside schools, informal education centres and community training centres. In addition he/she will also liaise with guidance services and social welfare services and be in contact with prison linkage groups and Pathways Education Centres. The Guidance Counsellor advocates on behalf of the prisoner before their release with these educational facilities in the community. This teacher also liaises with other services working with the prisoner to get the best possible placement available on release.

Other areas where there has been significant progress in prison education are in physical education, in the provision of higher education, in the arts and in preparing prisoners for release and supporting their transition to life, and often to education, on the outside. A top priority for the Irish Prison Service is ensuring help for those with reading and writing problems and peer mentoring programmes are currently active in all of our prisons.

As part of a joint initiative between the Probation Service and the Irish Prison Service, to address the needs of Young Offenders, education and training specific community return options have been designed for young offenders under the age of 21. A new approach to structured probation supervision of released young offenders is being implemented. In addition, the Irish Prison Service fund the GATE service, whose staff are trained career guidance specialists based in the prisons. Young persons engage with the services Training and Employment Officers (TEO’s) as early as possible prior to release. The GATE Service has been in operation since 2007 and is a joint initiative between the Irish Association for the Social Integration of Offenders (IASIO) and the Irish Prison Service (IPS).

Lastly, I would mention that generally, once a person's prison sentence has ended, there is no enduring obligation on that individual to remain in contact with the agencies of my Department. There are a small number of exceptions to this including sex offenders who may be required to register with their local Garda station and life sentenced prisoners who will be required to remain under supervision by the Probation Service after their release. However, every effort is made to encourage prisoners to avail of the community supports available.