I fully understand the very natural public safety concerns regarding the rehabilitation of sex offenders and I am aware of the recent media coverage of the participation rates in the Building Better Lives programme. This Programme is an intensive programme aimed at a certain cohort of sex offenders and like all treatment programmes available for people convicted of sexual violence, it is voluntary in nature. The Deputy will appreciate that treatment programmes of any kind are generally only effective where the person concerned accepts that their behaviour has caused serious harm and wants to take ownership to change their own behaviour.
There are a number of reasons why individual sex offenders do not participate in the Building Better Lives programme and it is important to note that men who are assessed for treatment may be deemed not suitable for the programme.
The criteria for participation includes a prison sentence of 18 months to provide time to complete the programme, admission of sexually harmful behaviour, robustness of mental health, intellectual, social and developmental capacity, some literacy capacity and those not appealing their conviction.
It is important to understand that, while the programme tends to be a particular focus for attention, it is only one of a number of assessment and intervention (treatment) pillars provided by the Irish Prison Service and Probation Service for people convicted of sexual violence.
The Irish Prison Service provides alternative pathways of intervention for people who are not suitable for, or decline to attend, the Building Better Lives Programme but who are willing to engage in other interventions, in order to facilitate cognitive, emotional and behavioural change and social reintegration and seek to reduce the risk of recidivism and help ex-offenders lead law-abiding lives.
Prison in-reach Psychiatry services are available for stabilisation and maintenance of mental health where a mental health diagnosis is made. A Sex Offender Risk Assessment and Management (SORAM) programme has also been established to support the cooperation and coordination between key statutory organisations involved in managing the risk posed to the community by convicted sex offenders, as well as the Safer Lives Community Group Work Treatment Programme. A significant number of those released who do not participate in Building Better Lives Programme, are managed through one or more of these programmes and the Irish Prison Service.
For the reasons I have set out, and in keeping with best practice, the Irish Prison Service has no proposals to make offence-focused treatment for sex offenders mandatory.