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Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Written Answers Nos. 152-172

Question No. 152 answered with Question No. 116.

Prisoner Health

Questions (153)

Jonathan O'Brien

Question:

153. Deputy Jonathan O'Brien asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality if she will commit to a daily minimum of 12 hours out of cell activity for all prisoners, with an emphasis on education, training and work. [12670/16]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Justice)

I am informed by the Irish Prison Service that there are currently no plans to commit to a daily minimum of 12 hours out of cell activity for prisoners.

I am further advised by the Irish Prison Service that it provides a wide range of rehabilitative programmes to persons in custody that include education, vocational training, healthcare, psychiatric, psychological, counselling, welfare and spiritual services. These programmes offer purposeful activity to those in custody while serving their sentences and encouraging them to lead law abiding lives on release. These programmes are available in all prisons and all persons in custody are eligible to use the services.

On committal, including committal for first time offences, all persons in custody are interviewed by the Governor and are informed of the services available in the prison. Persons in custody may be referred to services or they can self refer at a later date.

The Department of Education and Skills provides an allocation of 220 whole time teacher equivalents in partnership with the Irish Prison Service through the Education and Training Boards (ETB). The focus is on providing education which is quality assured, student centred and facilitates lifelong learning through helping those in custody to cope with their sentence, achieve personal development and prepare for life after release. A broad and flexible curriculum is provided which ranges from basic literacy classes and peer led tutoring to Open University. There is an increasing focus on QQI (formerly FETAC) accreditation as the modular structure is suitable to the needs of students in prison.

The Irish 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 and Guilds, the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA), and the Guild of Launders and Cleaners and the centralising of coordination and quality assurance arrangements have enabled the Irish Prison Service to extend the number of available courses and activities with certification.

The guiding principles which underpin the prisons' work and training service are to make available work, work-training and other purposeful activities to those in custody. Training activities are chosen to give as much variety as possible and also to give opportunities for those in prison to acquire practical accredited skills which will help them secure employment on release.

Each prison also has fully equipped gymnasium that prisoners access on a structured basis, which plays a significant role in prison life by providing positive outlets for energy.

It is the aim of the Prison Service to allow prisoners to spend as much time as possible each day out of their cell or room to associate with other prisoners. Rule 27(3) of the Prison Rules 2007 states "In so far as is practicable, each convicted prisoner should be engaged in authorised structured activity for a period of not less than five hours on each of five days in each week".

In general prison cells are unlocked at approximately 8.15am each morning for breakfast. Prisoners collect breakfast and return to cells, which are then locked from 8.45am to 9.15am. Cells are again unlocked for prisoners to attend work, school, visits and exercise. Prisoners return for lunch at 12:00pm and cells are locked at 12.30pm. Afternoon unlock commences at 2.15pm and prisoners return to structured activities in schools, workshops and visits. Evening tea is served from 4pm and cells are locked from 4.30pm to 5.20pm when evening recreation commences until all cells are locked at 7.30pm. This allows for total out of cell time of up to 8 hours.

Prison Security

Question No. 155 answered with Question No. 129.

Questions (154)

Jonathan O'Brien

Question:

154. Deputy Jonathan O'Brien asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality if she will end the use of prolonged isolation of prisoners as a response to prisoner safety concerns. [12671/16]

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Written answers (Question to Justice)

I am advised by the Irish Prison Service that there is no provision for solitary confinement of prisoners in their custody. However, the Deputy will appreciate that on occasion, it is necessary for vulnerable prisoners and others to be separated from the general prison population.

The restriction of a prisoner's regime can occur due to a number of factors including the protection of vulnerable prisoners. This is provided for under Rule 63 of the Prison Rules 2007. A prisoner may, either at his/her own request or when the Governor considers it necessary, in so far as is practicable and subject to the maintenance of good order and safe and secure custody, be kept separate from other prisoners who are reasonably likely to cause significant harm to him/her.

In addition, the Governor may decide, for the maintenance of good order in the prison, to remove a prisoner from general association or structured activity to reduce the negative effect that a prisoner or prisoners may have on the general population. This is provided for under Rule 62 of the Prison Rules 2007. There may also be a smaller number of prisoners who would be restricted for medical (Rule 64) or discipline reasons (Rule 67).

The fact that prisoners seeking protection are immediately separated from the general population or from specific prisoners identified as presenting a threat, clearly demonstrates the commitment of the Irish Prison Service to ensure their safety and security. The status of each prisoner on a restricted regime is regularly reviewed and they always have interaction and meaningful human contact with staff, chaplains if requested and medical services. If possible, prisoners can be transferred to other institutions where a restricted regime would not be necessary.

I am also advised by the Irish Prison Service that a census of restricted regime prisoners is published on a quarterly basis on their website www.irishprisons.ie. The latest restricted regime census was produced in April this year.

A group to examine these matters has been set up and is chaired by the Director General. Regular meetings are held and these have helped to focus on and reduce the number of prisoners on 23 hour lock up and to introduce measures to reduce the number of prisoners held on restricted regimes. Since the introduction of the group, the number of prisoners on 22/23 hour lock up has decreased by 126 or 60% from 211 to 85.

Question No. 155 answered with Question No. 129.

Prison Service

Questions (156)

Jonathan O'Brien

Question:

156. Deputy Jonathan O'Brien asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality if she will establish the Irish Prison Service as a fully independent prisons authority on a statutory basis with the director general as Accounting Officer; and if so, the cost of this project. [12673/16]

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Written answers (Question to Justice)

The question of the governance arrangements and relationship between my Department and the Irish Prison Service remains under consideration.

Prisoner Welfare

Questions (157)

Jonathan O'Brien

Question:

157. Deputy Jonathan O'Brien asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality if she will commit to an interdepartmental and inter-agency strategy for supporting children with a parent in prison. [12674/16]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Justice)

I can advise the Deputy that the Irish Prison Service Strategic Plan sets out the commitment of the Prison Service to strengthen family supports to facilitate on-going contact with prisoners while in custody and their reintegration post release, with appropriate supports and programmes.

The Director General of the Irish Prison Service established the Families & Imprisonment Group (FIG), and tasked the group with examining existing visiting facilities for all prisoners and in particular to address the needs of children and families as highlighted in the report published by the Irish Penal Reform Trust titled "Picking up the Pieces: The Rights and Needs of Children and Families Affected by Imprisonment".

FIG is currently overseeing the delivery of the actions identified and is chaired by a prison Governor. This group includes representatives from the Childhood Development Initiative (CDI), the Psychology Service, the Probation Service, the Prison Officer's Association and Tusla. A key goal is to establish a model of through-care to parents returning to the community in partnership with Tusla and other community based organisations.

In summary a high degree of support already exists around children with a parent in prison.

Departmental Strategies

Questions (158)

Jonathan O'Brien

Question:

158. Deputy Jonathan O'Brien asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality if she will implement the Irish Prison Service's families and imprisonment strategy; the level of resourcing she has allocated to this; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12675/16]

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Written answers (Question to Justice)

I am advised by the Irish Prison Service that the Families and Imprisonment Strategy implementation is progressing as planned. The Irish Prison Service (IPS) Strategic Plan sets out the commitment of the Irish Prison Service to strengthen family supports to facilitate on-going contact with prisoners while in custody and their reintegration post release, with appropriate supports and programmes.

The Director General of the Irish Prison Service established the Families & Imprisonment Group (FIG), and tasked the group with examining existing visiting facilities for all prisoners and in particular to address the needs of children and families as highlighted in the report published by the Irish Penal Reform Trust titled "Picking up the Pieces: The Rights and Needs of Children and Families Affected by Imprisonment".

The Families & Imprisonment Implementation Group is currently overseeing the delivery of the actions identified and is chaired by a prison Governor and includes representatives from the Childhood Development Initiative (CDI), the Psychology Service, the Probation Service, the Prison Officer's Association and Tusla. A key goal is to establish a model of through-care to parents returning to the community in partnership with Tusla and other community based organisations.

Following a period of consultation with a range of non-government organisations, the Irish Prison Service forged a partnership with the Childhood Development Initiative and the Parents Plus Charity to introduce a dedicated family and imprisonment programme on a pilot basis 'Family Links' which commenced in Limerick Prison in September 2014 with the aim to improve the visiting experience for families, improve staff awareness of the effects of imprisonment on families, and to support the family unit with the introduction of a parenting programme.

As part of this initiative, Limerick Prison has radically changed the design for visits in the C Block. The visiting room now consists of eight round tables with four chairs around each in a warm and colourful environment, prisoners on standard regime have access to this style of visit. Limerick Prison has also established a ‘family room’ which is available to prisoners on an enhanced regime.

Limerick Prison has worked closely with the Irish Prison Service Training College and the Childhood Development Initiative (CDI) in developing and delivering a number of learning and development programmes. Training have been delivered to over 40 staff to include: (1) 'Front-of-House' training to improve customer service, and increase awareness of the challenges faced by families with a loved one in custody; (2) Family Liaison Officer training to support the prisoners in their role as parents and to co-deliver the Parents Plus parenting course to prisoners; and, (3) Children First awareness training. Further staff training is planned for the second quarter of 2016.

The Parents Plus Charity and Childhood Development Initiative have worked with the Irish Prison Service to tailor the ‘Parents Plus’ parenting programme to meet the need of parents in prison. Family Liaison Officers in Limerick Prison facilitate parenting skills course for prisoners, and ‘Bedford Row’ charity works simultaneously to deliver the parenting programme in the community. This programme has been successfully delivered to 24 prisoners. A review of the 'Parents Plus' programme by University of Limerick is currently underway which will inform future development.

Further small capital projects are underway to enhance visit facilities across the prison estate. Funding was awarded to St. Vincent de Paul to extend their Visitor Centre facilities to Wheatfield Prison. The Irish Prison Service has recently allocated funding to appoint a Family Links Coordinator and to extend the Family Links model to Wheatfield Prison in 2016 and Cork Prison in 2017. This will commence with staff training for Wheatfield Prison staff in Summer 2016 and delivery of the first 'Parents Plus' parenting programme in partnership with Tusla to families in Wheatfield Prison in Autumn 2016.

Prison Accommodation

Questions (159)

Jonathan O'Brien

Question:

159. Deputy Jonathan O'Brien asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality her plans to provide an open prison for female prisoners and to increase open prison provision for male prisoners. [12676/16]

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Written answers (Question to Justice)

In the joint Probation Service/Irish Prison Service Women's Strategy 2014 - 2016, An Effective Response to Women Who Offend, published in 2014, the Irish Prison Service made a commitment to explore the development of an open centre/open conditions for women assessed as low risk of re-offending.

This commitment was acknowledged in the Report on the Strategic Review of Penal Policy who also recommended that a greater focus on step down facilities, supported accommodation, use of more community based open conditions for female offenders and the provision of an open centre for women.

A joint Irish Prison Service/Probation Service working group considered an open centre for women and decided to recommend, rather than developing an open centre for women, that a more practical and cost effective way to address the deficit is to pursue step down facilities for women.

In this regard, I have given approval to the Heads of the Irish Prison Service and Probation Service to proceed to scope the possibilities for the development of step down units for female offenders and female ex-offenders.

There are no plans to increase open prison provision for male prisoners.

Prisoner Releases

Questions (160)

Jonathan O'Brien

Question:

160. Deputy Jonathan O'Brien asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality her plans to remove exclusions from temporary release for all categories of prisoner. [12677/16]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Justice)

The legislative basis for making decisions on temporary release is set out in the Criminal Justice Act 1960, as amended by the Criminal Justice (Temporary Release of Prisoners) Act 2003.

In September 2014 I published the report of the Penal Policy Review Group which was tasked with carrying out a strategic review of penal policy. The terms of reference for the Group included an examination and analysis of the role of penal policy in crime prevention; sentencing policies; alternatives to custody; custodial accommodation and regimes; reintegration and rehabilitation; and any special issues relating to female offenders.

The Review Group considered those offences for which temporary release is prohibited other than for “a grave reason of humanitarian nature”. These concern persons sentenced to the presumptive minimum or mandatory sentence for certain drugs and firearms offences and those convicted of capital murder Section 5, Criminal Justice Act 1990. Given the seriousness with which society rightly regards crimes of capital murder, the Review Group did not recommend any change in the prohibition of temporary release to this latter category of offender. It did recommend the removal of the prohibition on temporary release for those in the former category i.e. offenders who receive the presumptive mandatory sentence for a drugs or firearms offence should be removed.

This matter is being kept under review.

Prisoner Releases

Questions (161)

Jonathan O'Brien

Question:

161. Deputy Jonathan O'Brien asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality her plans to impose a statutory obligation on relevant State agencies to co-operate around prisoner release. [12678/16]

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Written answers (Question to Justice)

I can advise the Deputy that the Irish Prison Service and the Probation Service have a multi agency approach to offender management and rehabilitation in order to reduce re-offending and improve prisoner outcomes.

A new pre-release planning policy for the Irish Prison Service is at an advanced stage and will represent considerable improvements to current pre-release planning and practices in Irish prisons. This policy will ensure critical areas are highlighted in prisoner throughcare under six key pillars: Housing/Accommodation Needs, Financial Supports, Healthcare, Public Safety and Statutory Requirements, Families and Personal Relationships, Education, Training and Employment.

Furthermore, the Irish Prison Service and the Probation Service have published a number of Joint Strategies. These strategies set out how the two Services will work together with other statutory, community and voluntary sector partners to provide a multi-agency approach to offender management and rehabilitation. While the Prison Service and the Probation Service are two separate entities, the work they do is closely linked and has the same ultimate goal - to reduce re-offending leading to safer communities. Co-operation and working together is integral to achieving this common goal.

In addition, I published the Report of the Penal Policy Review Group in September 2014 and subsequently established a Group to oversee the implementation of the recommendations of the Review Group. The Group is chaired by Dr. Mary Rogan, Associate Professor, School of Law, Trinity College who was a member of the Review Group.

The Review Group recommends that there must be greater emphasis, if necessary through legislation, on promoting inter-agency cooperation in the management and rehabilitation of offenders. Indeed inter-agency and inter-Departmental working is a key theme emerging from the work of the Implementation Oversight Group. Clearly, the input of other Departments and agencies will be critical to the implementation of the Review Group recommendations. In that context the Implementation Oversight Group organised a Workshop on 8 February 2016 of the key actors in order to discuss the recommendations of the Review Group and advance their implementation. The theme of the workshop was interagency co-operation.

I expect to receive a report from the Implementation Oversight Group shortly setting out the state of implementation. It is also my intention to publish this report.

In summary a high degree of co-ordination already exists amongst the relevant State agencies around prisoner release.

Prisoner Rehabilitation Programmes

Questions (162)

Jonathan O'Brien

Question:

162. Deputy Jonathan O'Brien asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality the post-release reintegration service and supports available to prisoners and the level of resources she has allocated to them. [12679/16]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Justice)

I am advised by the Irish Prison Service that the service is committed to managing custodial sentences in a way which encourages and supports prisoners in their endeavouring to live law abiding and purposeful lives as valued members of society. In order to achieve this aim the Irish Prison Service and the Probation Service have a multi-agency approach involving considerable resources devoted to offender management and rehabilitation from pre- to post-imprisonment in order to reduce re-offending and improve prisoner outcomes.

Where the Courts have ordered the post-release supervision of offenders on completion of sentence, or in the case of life-sentenced prisoners released on reviewable conditional release by the Irish Prison Service, prison-based Probation Officers complete appropriate risk assessments to inform future case management. This case management is undertaken by Probation Officers in the community for the duration of the specified community sanction.

In addition the Prison Service provide a range of services to prisoners to enhance their chance of successful reintegration.

The Integrated Sentence Management process is a prisoner-centred, multi-disciplinary approach to working with prisoners with provision for initial assessment, goal setting and periodic review to measure progress.

A primary function of the Psychology Service in prisons is to assist offenders address factors that place them at risk of re-offending including emotional regulation, mental health, substance abuse, sexual and violent offending. The guiding principle which underpins the Prison Education Service and the Prison Work and Training Service is to make available work, work-training, education and other purposeful activities to assist offenders cope with their sentence, achieve personal development and prepare for life after release.

The Chaplaincy Service provides pastoral and spiritual care to any prisoners who wish to avail of the service. The Irish Prison Service provides funding to the Irish Association for the Social Integration of Offenders (IASIO) for two operational services, the 'Gate' Service and the Resettlement Service.

The 'Gaining Access to Training and Employment' (GATE) Service is a vocational service that offers guidance counselling and placement supports to referred prisoners with the overall aim of securing a placement in training or employment post-release. The Resettlement Service is a primary needs resettlement support service for prisoners with less than 18 months left to serve. The Resettlement Service provides one-to-one support from the prison to the community. Since 2007, the Irish Prison Service has engaged Merchant's Quay Ireland to develop and deliver an effective prison-based Addiction Counselling Service.

Local review meetings are held in prisons on a regular basis where a prisoner’s sentence progression is discussed. They are chaired by the Governor with the attendance of all members of the prison-based multi-disciplinary team. Elements of these review discussions include the risk of re-offending on release, risk of homelessness on release, and proposed supports pre – and post- release in the case of prisoners being assessed for early release.

The Community Return Programme is an incentivised early release scheme co-managed by the Irish Prison Service and the Probation Service. This involves an initiative whereby carefully selected prisoners can be granted reviewable temporary release coupled with a requirement to do community service work in a supervised group setting. In addition a Community Support Scheme has been introduced to reduce recidivism rates of short-term prisoners by arranging for additional support structures post release and by providing for a more structured form of temporary release.

The Irish Prison Service are actively engaged with senior management in the Department of Social Protection and Department of Environment with an overall aim of establishing a protocol between departments for the case management of offenders who are at risk of homelessness.

A new release planning policy for the Irish Prison Service will shortly be put into place and will represent considerable improvements to current pre-release planning and practices in Irish prisons. This policy will address issues arising for the individual in custody under six key pillars: Housing/Accommodation Needs, Financial Supports, Healthcare, Public Safety and Statutory Requirements, Families & Personal Relationships, Education, Training and Employment.

Probation and Welfare Service Data

Questions (163)

Jonathan O'Brien

Question:

163. Deputy Jonathan O'Brien asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality the funding she has allocated to the Probation Service. [12680/16]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Justice)

A total of €38.963 million in funding has been provided in the Probation Service in the 2016 Estimates.

Juvenile Offenders

Questions (164)

Jonathan O'Brien

Question:

164. Deputy Jonathan O'Brien asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality her plans to extend expungement provisions in the Children Act 2001 to offences committed up to 21 years of age. [12681/16]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Justice)

In general terms, Section 258 of the Children Act 2001 (as amended) provides a limited ‘‘clean slate’’ in respect of most offences committed by children. The application of this section is subject to a number of conditions including that the person was under the age of 18 when the offence was committed. There are no proposals currently under consideration to extend those provisions of the Children Act 2001 to offences committed up to 21 years of age.

The Deputy will be aware that the Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions and Certain Disclosures) Act 2016 commenced in April. That Act provides that a range of minor offences committed by a person, who has attained the age of 18 years at the date of the commission of the offence which is the subject of the conviction concerned, will become spent after seven years.

Prisoner Data

Questions (165)

Jonathan O'Brien

Question:

165. Deputy Jonathan O'Brien asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality the number of persons in prison custody. [12693/16]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Justice)

I am advised by the Irish Prison Service that the information requested by the Deputy is published daily on the Irish Prison Service website at www.irishprisons.ie.

Fines Data

Questions (166)

Jonathan O'Brien

Question:

166. Deputy Jonathan O'Brien asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality the number of committals for non-payment of fines in each of the years 2013 to 2016 to date; and the mechanism she is using to monitor the implementation of the Fines Act 2014. [12694/16]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Justice)

I wish to inform the Deputy that the number of committals to prison for non-payment of a court order fine for each of the years requested is set out in the following table. It can be noted that the figure for committals in 2016 relates to fines imposed prior to the commencement of the Fines (Payment and Recovery) Act 2014.

Year

Number of Committals for non-payment of Fines

2016 (up to and including the 31st March)

2,325

2015

9,883

2014

8,979

2013

8,121

The Fines (Payment and Recovery) Act 2014 was commenced on 11 January 2016. The new approach to the payment of fines means that various provisions including payment by instalment and attachment of earnings will take effect in stages during 2016. The sequencing of the different payment options indicates that it will be a full year before a clear picture emerges as to the operation and effect of the new system, the impact it has on the volume of court business as well as on the roles of other agencies including the Probation Service.

While the Courts Service is compiling statistics, there is limited data available at this early stage; the figures do however indicate that the take up of the option to pay a fine by instalments is working well and continues to rise. My Department is represented on the Courts Service Fines Act Implementation Group and we will continue to work with the group to ensure effective monitoring of the new payments system. In addition, my Department is currently in contact with the Probation Service and the Sheriff's Association to address their roles in relation to Community Service and fine recovery aspects of the system respectively.

Departmental Reports

Questions (167)

Jonathan O'Brien

Question:

167. Deputy Jonathan O'Brien asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality if she is aware of findings from the Law Reform Commission and the strategic review of penal policy that mandatory and presumptive sentencing does not achieve its aims; and her plans to repeal these laws. [12695/16]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Justice)

The Penal Policy Review Group was tasked with carrying out a strategic review of penal policy. The Review Group's Report, which I published in September 2014, made a number of recommendations about sentencing. Adopting an approach similar to the Law Reform Commission in its Report on Mandatory Sentences published in June, 2013, the Review Group recommended that no further mandatory sentences or presumptive minimum sentences be introduced and existing provisions should be reviewed. At the time of publication of the Review Group Report I pointed out that it was my preference to maintain the minimum mandatory life sentence for murder as was also recommended by the Law Reform Commission. The issues relating to mandatory sentences and presumptive minimum sentences is being kept under review.

Prison Accommodation Standards

Questions (168)

Jonathan O'Brien

Question:

168. Deputy Jonathan O'Brien asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality to prioritise Ireland’s human rights obligations by prioritising the development of smaller local prisons and open and low-security options in order to enhance the economic efficiency of the system and to allow the development of more effective and constructive regimes. [12696/16]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Justice)

There are no plans to develop any new sites for male offenders.

I can advise the Deputy that in the joint Probation Service/Irish Prison Service Women's Strategy 2014-2016, An Effective Response to Women Who Offend, published in 2014, the Irish Prison Service made a commitment to explore the development of an open centre/open conditions for women assessed as low risk of re-offending.

This commitment was acknowledged in the Report on the Strategic Review of Penal Policy which also recommended that a greater focus on step down facilities, supported accommodation, use of more community based open conditions for female offenders and the provision of an open centre for women.

A joint Irish Prison Service/Probation Service working group considered an open centre for women and decided to recommend, rather than developing an open centre for women, that a more practical and cost effective way to address the deficit is to pursue step down facilities for women. In this regard, I have given approval to the Heads of the Irish Prison Service and Probation Service to proceed to scope the possibilities for the development of step down units for female offenders and female ex-offenders.

Special Criminal Court Establishment

Questions (169)

Jonathan O'Brien

Question:

169. Deputy Jonathan O'Brien asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality if she is aware of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights' concluding observations on Ireland under the July 2014 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights that expressed concern at the continuing operation and expansion of the remit of the Special Criminal Court; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12697/16]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Justice)

I firmly believe that trial by jury must be preserved to the greatest extent possible. However the threat posed to the criminal justice process by individuals, terrorist groups and organised criminal groups who seek to intimidate jurors or potential jurors cannot be ignored. Article 38.3.1° of the Constitution allows for the establishment of special courts in accordance with the law in cases where it is considered that the ordinary courts are inadequate to secure the effective administration of justice. Section 38 of the Offences against the State Act 1939 provides for the establishment of Special Criminal Courts. Section 38 of the 1939 Act as amended also provides that the Government may, whenever they consider it necessary or desirable to do so, establish additional Special Criminal Courts as they think fit. It also provides that whenever two or more Special Criminal Courts are in existence the Government may, if and so often as they think fit, reduce the number of such Courts and abolish those existing Courts that appear to be redundant.

Given the considerable length of time it takes for cases to come to hearing in the Special Criminal Court, together with the particular types of offences with which the Special Criminal Court is concerned, last year I sought the necessary Government approval to appoint judges to the Second Special Criminal Court, thereby bringing it into existence. The second Special Criminal Court became operational on 25 April 2016 and sat for the first time on 6 May 2016. Prior to the first sitting of Second Special Criminal Court, the waiting time for the hearing of cases, indicated to be ready for trial, was 24 months. This has now been reduced to 18 months and, as the two Special Criminal Courts continue to sit, the waiting times will continue to reduce.

The establishment of a Second Special Criminal Court does not necessarily mean that more cases will be referred to the Special Criminal Courts but that cases will be dealt with more quickly. The Deputy will be aware that the decision as to whether a particular case will be prosecuted before the Special Criminal Court is a matter for the Director of Public Prosecutions who is, by law, independent of the Government. There have been calls for the abolition of the Special Criminal Court, including by the United Nations Human Rights Committee, but the Government is not prepared to consider such a step at this time.

Coroners Service

Question No. 171 answered with Question No. 127.

Questions (170)

Jonathan O'Brien

Question:

170. Deputy Jonathan O'Brien asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality when she will introduce legislation to update the coroner system and to ensure mechanisms of investigation into deaths in prison custody are compliant with Ireland's international human rights obligations. [12698/16]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Justice)

In relation to the investigation of deaths in prison custody, since 1 January, 2012, the death of any prisoner in custody or on temporary release is the subject of an independent investigation by the Inspector of Prisons. The Deputy will be aware that the Office of the Inspector of Prisons is a statutory independent office established under the Prisons Act, 2007. All death in custody reports are published on my Department’s website.

The Inspector’s investigations and reports are part of a three pronged process – the other aspects being the investigations by An Garda Síochána and the investigations and Inquests conducted by the Coroners. I am satisfied that this process ensures that Ireland is in compliance with its national and international obligations regarding deaths in prison custody, and meets the strict criteria laid down by the European Court of Human Rights when interpreting the procedural requirements of Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

In addition, the circumstances of each death in custody are subject to an internal review process by the suicide prevention group for the prison institution concerned. This group is chaired by the respective prison Governors, and includes representatives from all the services across the prison estate, including medical, psychology, chaplaincy, probation, education, and prison staff. The internal review fully covers the background and circumstances of each death in custody, and its objective is to identify any possible measures which may be implemented which can contribute to a reduced risk of deaths in custody in future.

The Internal Review Reports are considered by the National Suicide and Harm Prevention Steering Group, which is chaired by the Director General of the Irish Prison Service. The Steering Group then ensures that the relevant findings of those reports are disseminated throughout the prison system.

In relation to the coroner system, the Coroners Bill 2007 is already under review in my Department at my request, as elements of that Bill have become outdated. However, changes have already been introduced in relation to an inquest, where the person has died in prison custody or immediately after being in prison custody. Part 6 of the Courts and Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2013, which amended the Coroners Act 1962 and the Civil Legal Aid Act 1995, provides for legal aid to be available to the deceased's next of kin so that they can be legally represented at the coroner's inquest where the person has died in, or immediately after being in, State custody.

This responds to the importance under the European Convention on Human Rights of ensuring that the next of kin can effectively participate and engage in the inquest process in such cases.

Question No. 171 answered with Question No. 127.

Sentencing Policy

Questions (172)

Jonathan O'Brien

Question:

172. Deputy Jonathan O'Brien asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality the resources she has allocated to integrated sentence management in prisons to deliver prisoner centred rehabilitation. [12700/16]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Justice)

I am advised by the Irish Prison Service that a total of 24 dedicated Integrated Sentence Management Coordinators are operational in all prisons and open centres since March 2015. The allocation of dedicated staff in each establishment greatly enhances the effectiveness of the sentence management system and facilitates the growing numbers of prisoners participating in the process. These 24 Integrated Sentence Management Coordinators are further supported by prison management and the prison-based multi-disciplinary team, which includes the Psychology Service, the Education Service, the Work Training Service, the Chaplaincy Service, the Probation Service, the Resettlement Service, the Addiction Service and the prison Healthcare team.

Newly committed prisoners with a sentence of greater than one year are eligible to take part in Integrated Sentence Management. This involves a specific orientation in the delivery of services to prisoners with an emphasis on prisoners taking greater personal responsibility for their own development through active engagement with both specialist and non-specialist services in the prisons.

The Integrated Sentence Management process is a prisoner-centred, multi-disciplinary approach to working with prisoners, with provision for initial assessment, goal-setting and periodic review to measure progress. Important issues such as accommodation, employment and education are addressed to help the prisoner resettle into the community on release and reduce the risk of re-offending.

Integrated Sentence Management Coordinators are also active participants in sentence planning for certain categories of prisoners serving less than one year, for example, female prisoners, prisoners who have declared their risk of homelessness on release, or prisoners participating in the Community Support Scheme. The Integrated Sentence Management process has played a key role in the success of the Community Return Scheme.

The Irish Prison Service continues to invest in IT developments to support the Integrated Sentence Management process. In January 2016, the Irish Prison Service introduced a new central information platform on the Prisoner Information Management System (PIMS) where both Integrated Sentence Management Coordinators and members of the multi-disciplinary team can record a range of information with regard to ongoing sentence management for individual prisoners and raise post-release concerns. This centralised information-sharing resource will assist prison-based services to improve the transition from custody to the community for offenders with the overall aim of reducing risk to the individual and reducing risk of re-offending post-release.

The current Integrated Sentence Management policy is currently under review by the Irish Prison Service in order to improve service delivery to individual prisoners.

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