In my replies to a number of previous parliamentary questions in relation to the report entitled A Survey of the Level of Learning Disability among the Prison Population in Ireland, I have indicated there are strong reservations in my Department about interpreting the main finding of the study as suggesting that over 28% of the prisoner population in the country have a mental handicap. Any such suggestion is strongly disputed by people who work with prisoners in a professional capacity on a daily basis and there is a reasonable basis for argument that this unexpectedly high figure could be accounted for by measurement of factors attributable to educational deficit and social disadvantage, rather than learning disabilityper se.As I indicated in my answer to Parliamentary Questions Nos. 642 and 680 on 7 May 2003, the director general of the Irish Prison Service has indicated that the particular recommendations relevant to the service are being considered in the context of the care and rehabilitation services for prisoners. My reply on that occasion also indicated what is already being done in the prisons in relation to prisoners with learning disabilities. The situation in our prisons has been transformed since 1997. In the past, a persistent high level of overcrowding resulted in the granting of release in an unstructured manner to many offenders at an early stage in their sentences. The construction of over 1,200 new prison spaces in recent years has effectively ended that situation. Six years ago, a total of 19% of the prison population was on temporary release. In 2003, that proportion has been reduced to 8%. Alternatives to custody are being developed and utilised, where appropriate. In this context, greatly increased resources have been made available to the probation and welfare service in recent years.
The Government has introduced legislation, as required, in areas such as public order and liquor licensing, and will continue to do so.
There can be no doubt of the progress made to date in the area of crime and no doubt of our continued commitment to maintaining and improving our criminal justice system throughout the lifetime of this Government.