Penal Reform and Sentencing: Motion

I move:

That Dáil Éireann shall consider the Report of the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality entitled ‘Report on Penal Reform and Sentencing’, copies of which were laid before Dáil Éireann on 10th May, 2018.

I thank the Minister for his attendance.

In 2013, our predecessor committee of the Thirty-first Dáil published its report on penal reform, which made a number of recommendations to improve the effectiveness of both prison-based rehabilitation and the wider penal system. As I state in my preface to the report, while some progress in this area had been made since the publication of the 2013 report on penal reform of our predecessor committee, the current joint committee deemed it appropriate to readdress the issue of penal reform and sentencing, and we have made it a priority issue over the past two years. The committee was keen to identify the issues affecting Irish prisons, and we held engagements with seven stakeholder groups in this area, including the Irish Penal Reform Trust, the Victims' Rights Alliance, the Probation Service, the Irish Prison Service, the Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice, the Prison Officers' Association and Simon Communities Ireland.

In the course of evidence presented during the committee's engagement with stakeholders, it became abundantly clear that in Ireland there are still many issues with the penal system, particularly in respect of prison numbers, the systematic overuse of imprisonment as punishment, and the need to promote awareness and acceptance of sentencing alternatives. It also became clear that the conditions in prisons themselves are unacceptable and that far more needs to be done to rehabilitate offenders, to reduce reoffending and to minimise the impact of crime on victims and the community. The committee's report contains 29 recommendations which, if implemented, would, we believe, help to address the issues identified regarding the penal system.

While the daily population of prisons in Ireland is average by European standards, the rate of committal to Irish prisons remains very high, with a dramatic increase in the population of women in prison and being sent to prison. Additionally, evidence showed that the one-size-fits-all philosophy, with a reliance on the closed prisons system, was found to be inappropriate to prison environments. Strategies must be adopted to reduce the overall prison population. The committee would like to see a more flexible approach to the prison system whereby there are semi-open facilities. A variety of restriction and supervision should be adopted, with prisoners engaging in more meaningful out-of-cell time. Daily routines should reflect a normal day, and regimes should be programme-driven. Accommodation across the board should be single-cell occupancy only. The committee encourages the phasing out of solitary confinement, which should be used only in the most extreme circumstances, and calls on the Government to facilitate the passage of Deputy Clare Daly's Private Members' Bill, the Prisons (Solitary Confinement) (Amendment) Bill 2016, to address this issue.

There is a particular need to address the young adult prison population, that is, those in the 18-to-24 age group.

Further education opportunities should be made available through a pairing arrangement with third level institutions and accommodation should be provided as appropriate in stand-alone housing settings with single-room occupancy, communal dining and food preparation facilities. Every effort possible should be employed to help reduce the prospect of reoffending from this age category.

The committee also believes that better facilitating family visits could motivate behavioural change in prisoners by maintaining as normal a family life as possible. In addition developing mother-and-baby units to facilitate female offenders in cohabiting with their children on the basis of the needs of the child would promote a similar result.

A final point on conditions relates to the management of healthcare in Irish prisons. Many issues arise with waiting lists and appointments. The committee recommends that a review of healthcare in Irish prisons be undertaken and that responsibility for healthcare be transferred to the HSE.

One of the focal points of the report is that of minor criminal offences, which are exacerbating the issue of overcrowding in prisons. The committee recommends adopting alternative forms of sentencing for these offences in particular, including non-payment of fines, which accounts for more than 50% of annual committals. Community-based sanctions and non-custodial sentences are often more effective and far less costly than incarceration. This was a recommendation of the 2013 report and should be implemented. In addition, people must be facilitated to pay their fines by instalment, reducing the threshold for payment and extending the repayment schedule in the Fines (Payment and Recovery) Act 2014.

As for drug offences, there is a lack of utilisation of the existing legislation whereby instead of imposing a fine or prison sentence, a court may place an offender under the supervision of a body or require the offender to undergo treatment or complete a course of education or training to improve their job prospects. The committee believes this legislation would facilitate social rehabilitation and reduce reoffending if it were utilised sufficiently.

The operation of the community return scheme, an incentivised scheme for the supervised release of qualifying prisoners who undertake unpaid community work as a condition of their early release, is supported by the committee, which heard evidence suggesting the scheme has been very successful. It is hoped the scheme will be expanded to attract more prisoners and more categories of community service.

The issue of spent convictions requires urgent address. Offenders carrying the consequence of a criminal record for the rest of their lives if they have moved on from offending behaviour must be reassessed. Certain situations such as addiction, youth or poverty can contribute to offending behaviour. The committee believes these circumstances should be taken into account with regard to spent convictions.

The report highlights the high percentage of people, approximately 70%, entering prison with an addiction or substance-abuse problem. Related to this are issues of mental health. While certain facilities are available within the penal system, emphasis must be placed on ensuring prisoners have access to the appropriate rehabilitation facilities and on providing adequate resources to prison staff. Vulnerable care units should be established in all prisons, modelled on the Mountjoy high-support unit, which has seen great success in moving from pharmacological treatments to therapy interventions.

As a related issue, the report outlines the ongoing issue of housing shortage being directly related to reoffending as with offenders being released from prison into emergency accommodation, a number end up sleeping rough. Providing stable accommodation and supports would help to counteract this issue. The committee recommends an integrated cross-departmental approach to address these issues and again the housing first approach would be a good starting point.

To continue on the issue of reoffending, the report also outlines the need for prisons to have more constructive settings for preparing an offender to re-enter society. Educational facilities should be available to equip prisoners with necessary skills for returning to society. The report emphasises a focus on the mental health of the prisoner to prepare them psychologically for re-entry to society. Providing these facilities and preparing the person for re-entry to society is fundamental to reducing the rate of recidivism.

The report highlights issues regarding victims of crime and restorative justice. Consideration should be given to a new approach to penalising offenders while simultaneously assisting victims of crime. We should fine the offender and put the funds into a victim-support service. This may be a means by which an offender can avoid prison and instead contribute back to the community through the money he or she is paying towards the victims fund.

The report contains 29 recommendations. The committee took a great deal of time over the report as this is such an important area of its work and it is vital that we get it right. I believe we have got it right and I therefore urge the Minister for Justice and Equality and his Government colleagues to give the report their detailed consideration and to begin implementing its recommendations forthwith. As a society, we cannot afford to ignore this report's findings. The Government, as the vehicle for change, has a duty to heed and to act.

I thank the Cathaoirleach and the committee for its report on penal reform and sentencing. As I mentioned at the committee two weeks ago, the report is detailed and comprehensive. It has many implications across a range of services and bodies to which the Cathaoirleach has referred. I agree the recommendations of the report are such that they require examination on my part. I assure the Cathaoirleach, members of the committee and the House that my officials are currently examining them. I would be very happy to engage further with the committee when that process is complete.

I very much welcome the report as a valuable contribution to the debate on the issues of penal reform and sentencing. I take the opportunity to give details of the many progressive reforms that have taken place in recent times, as well as some future plans which are in the process of being implemented and which have relevance to many of the issues raised in the report.

As Deputies will be aware, the strategic review of penal policy produced by the penal policy review group and published in September 2014 advocates an approach to crime and the penal system that emphasises rehabilitation. It calls for an improved penal system, the reduction of reliance on imprisonment as a sanction and increased focus on alternatives. These are very much the themes which reflect the spirit of the report of the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality.

Dr. Mary Rogan is the independent chairperson of the implementation and oversight group established in early 2015 to oversee the implementation of the recommendations of the review group. This group comprises officials from the Department of Justice and Equality, the Irish Prison Service, the Probation Service and the Garda Síochána. It reports to me on a six-monthly basis on the implementation status of the recommendations of the group.

The group has presented five reports to me to date, all of which were published on the Department's website. The implementation of the group's recommendations constitutes the broad reform programme of penal policy being undertaken. From initial examination of the recommendations of the committee's report, many are linked with and complementary to the report of the PPRG.

I will address a number of issues raised in the report. In terms of prison numbers, Ireland has a relatively low rate of imprisonment by international standards. According to the most recent published statistics, Ireland's imprisonment rate is 78.1 per 100,000 of population. The equivalent European average is 129.9. The median figure is 117.1. Of 50 countries surveyed by the Council of Europe, only 11 have lower imprisonment rates than Ireland. The PPRG recommended the adoption of a strategy to reduce prisoner numbers to a safe level subject to the need to ensure proper protection of the public. In light of this, my officials are drafting a strategy which is expected to be finalised by the end of this year. I assure the House the recommendations made in the committee's report in this area will be fully considered in the context of developing that strategy.

With regard to females in prison, the planned redevelopment of a new female prison in Limerick will provide, in addition to 42 single occupancy rooms, an additional eight independent living areas. The capacity of Limerick female prison is 28. The stand-alone facility within the prison, with all the required ancillary services, will greatly enhance the accommodation regimes and supports available to women. The development of a step-down facility for female prisoners, which will be going to tender shortly, is intended to allow such women, who have served a large portion of their sentence in a closed prison environment, to gain some normalisation skills through living in a semi-independent manner. I acknowledge what the Chairman of the committee said in his contribution on this issue of living in a semi-independent manner and moving towards independence, all of which is necessary in the context of the reintegration, at some future date, of the prisoner into society.

I will mention healthcare for prisoners. Prisoners have wide-ranging and sometimes complex healthcare needs. The 2014 report of the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment recommended a fundamental review of healthcare services in Irish prisons and that the provision of healthcare in Irish prisons should be part of the general health service. This recommendation was underscored by the 2016 Healthcare in Irish Prisons report by the late Inspector of Prisons, which made a similar recommendation. This independent review will take place following the recruitment of the executive clinical lead as the central point of contact for the Irish Prison Service. This appointment will be announced shortly. Terms of reference will be finalised by my Department, the Department of Health and the Irish Prison Service. I will then engage a competitive process to select an independent body to undertake the review. An interdepartmental group to examine issues relating to people with mental illness who come in contact with the criminal justice system was also set up. This includes representatives of the Department of Justice and Equality, the Department of Health, the HSE, the National Forensic Mental Health Service, the Garda Síochána, the Office of the DPP and the Irish Prison Service. The interdepartmental group's first interim report was published in September 2016. The report sets out the work of the interdepartmental group with regard to how diversion could be facilitated where appropriate at all stages of the criminal justice process up to the conclusion of a criminal trial.

The second report of the group explores matters relating to mental health services for prisoners, matters relating to patients detained under the Criminal Law (Insanity) Act 2006 and post-release mental health services for former prisoners. This report will be published shortly. The implementation of the recommendations of both reports will be considered very soon thereafter. Many of the committee's recommendations cover areas related to both the interdepartmental group report and the review of health in prisons. The degree of broad consensus on objectives is worthy of note.

I will refer to what the Chairman of the justice committee has said on the issue of post-release. They are not issues upon which we disagree, although I am sure the Chairman might disagree with the pace of implementation of change in this regard. When a prisoner is released from custody, he or she is faced with an entirely new set of challenges. As a result of the number of different agencies and organisations involved in preparing a prisoner for life after release, it is necessary to have joined-up thinking. Interagency and interdepartmental working was a key theme emerging from the work of the penal policy review group report. Homelessness, drug addiction and recidivism are issues being considered by an interagency group chaired by Dr. Ruth Barrington. I understand this group, which is called the interagency group for a fairer and safer Ireland, will present a report to me over the coming months on its work to date. The report will be published.

The Probation Service is the lead agency in the assessment and management of offenders in our communities. It is committed to reducing offending, creating safer communities and having fewer victims through offender rehabilitation. Two important examples of promoting positive change and reintegration are the community service scheme, which provides a direct alternative to imprisonment for appropriate offenders to perform unpaid work for the benefit of the community, and the community return scheme as an alternative to completing a prison sentence.

Many offenders have complex needs which require a broad range of support and assistance. Engagement in education and training and access to behaviour management and treatment services can play a vital role in both rehabilitation and reintegration. In this respect, in 2017 my Department, through the Probation Service, provided funding of approximately €17 million to a range of community-based organisations. The Probation Service strategy for 2018-2020, which I launched earlier this week, commits to the further development of a professional service that is effective in reducing the risk of offending. The Probation Service works closely with the Irish Prison Service to ensure prisoners leaving custody are as best prepared as possible. Their joint strategic plan 2018-2020, also launched this week, is a practical example of agencies working together. The strategic objective of the plan is to have a multi-agency approach to offender management and rehabilitation from pre-imprisonment to post-imprisonment in order to reduce reoffending and improve outcomes for prisoners.

A Government decision was taken in April to proceed with the Private Members' Bill to establish a statutory parole board. This is in line with the long-standing Government commitment to set up a parole board on a statutory basis. Following Government approval, drafting has begun on relevant amendments which will be brought on Report Stage. It is expected these amendments will have been drafted soon. My Department is continuing to engage with Deputy O'Callaghan on this Bill and I thank him for his work in the area.

I am aware that over the past few minutes I have only touched on some of the key aspects of the report of the committee. I will be happy to give an overall view of a system that has undertaken reform and continues to do so. I thank the Chairman for the report and the committee members for their work in assisting the Chairman in the final production of the report. It is a most valuable contribution to the process of reform. It is striking that the committee's report represents a broad, all-party consensus on proposals for a progressive penal system. It is something that would not have been the case in the House a decade ago. I acknowledge the Chairman's work in that regard and in ensuring the report has the imprimatur of all parties on the committee and none.

I am very pleased this debate is taking place this afternoon. I am not sure how many further contributions there will be. I look forward to engaging and I would be happy to keep the committee fully informed of my consideration of aspects of the report and its recommendations. I am sure that perhaps towards the end of the summer I will have an opportunity of further engaging on this issue.

This is a comprehensive report that covers many of the most important and challenging issues facing our criminal justice system in the treatment of those persons in society whom the independent courts system deems should be denied their liberty. It is important that we underline our policy on the prison system with a view to ensuring that when people discharge their sanction and pay their penalty by serving a period in custody and when they acknowledge the time in which their liberty was denied, they will be in a position to reintegrate into society in a way that benefits society, reduces offending and is in everyone's best interests.

The Committee on Justice and Equality focused on measures that could be taken to decrease the number of people being sent to prison each year. The report finds a systemic overuse of imprisonment as punishment, unacceptable conditions in Irish prisons and the need to increase efforts to rehabilitate prisoners.

Sinn Féin believes that in a fair and effective criminal justice system offenders are held to account, sentences are proportionate and the primary purpose of prison is rehabilitation, not retribution. The report is wide-ranging, covering many topics, and there are 29 recommendations, some of which I will focus on.

In my capacity as Sinn Féin's health spokesperson, I point to recommendations Nos. 17 and 18, which focus specifically on the health of prisoners and the practicalities around maintaining health. The European Committee for the Prevention of Torture has been critical of the management of healthcare in Irish prisons, noting significant problems with waiting lists and missed appointments for Irish prisoners. It is recommended, therefore, that the Health Information and Quality Authority, HIQA, undertake a fundamental review of healthcare in Irish prisons. The Department of Health should commission an independent external audit of prison healthcare, and resources should be allocated to ensure the HSE can deliver healthcare effectively in prisons.

The committee supports the recommendation contained in a 2016 report by the former Inspector of Prisons, Mr. Justice Michael Reilly, that responsibility for healthcare in prisons be transferred to the HSE. It is widely known that people from poor and disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds make up the majority of the prison population. It is also true that the lower a person's economic background, the poorer his or her health and health outcomes. With that in mind, it is important that the conditions in prisons are up to the necessary standards to ensure good health among the prison population. This will mean those in the prison system remain healthy, both physically and mentally. That is only right and proper as prisoners, too, have rights. These rights must be upheld regardless of their transgressions.

Ensuring good conditions is very important because it means the mental well-being and physical health of prisoners is kept at a level that does not escalate to the need of acute care. Acute care is more expensive and has additional costs, such as prison officers transporting and monitoring patients. While some level of acute care will always be necessary, we should ensure all is done that can be done to prevent this escalation of care. It is important that substance misuse issues are tackled in our prisons and that those in prison have access to addiction treatments and other relevant resources.

Overcrowding is a big problem that leads to issues in terms of prisoner and staff safety, and this is something that must be addressed promptly. The recommendation to cap prison numbers and reduce the prison population over time through alternative measures must be given serious consideration. The director general of the Prison Service, Mr. Michael Donnellan, reported this week that huge pressure was being placed on the system because of the need to keep prisoners separated for their own safety. The State's 11 prisons are being forced to operate segregated regimes and up to 14 gangs are said to be involved.

The annual Prison Service report paints a bleak picture. The number of prisoners has risen for the first time in seven years and now stands at 3,981. Overcrowding has become an issue at six of our prisons, including the Dóchas centre for women. Young adults aged between 18 and 24 should be recognised as a distinct group under the responsibility of the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, along with being paired with third level institutions and availing of opportunities for further education. My party will support an expansion of Garda youth diversion projects and a focus on prevention and early intervention, rather than coming at the issues with a reactive perspective.

Ireland signed the optional protocol to the UN Convention against Torture on 2 October 2007 but has yet to ratify the instrument. When a State ratifies the optional protocol to the UN Convention against Torture, its main obligation is to set up an independent national preventative mechanism to undertake regular visits to places of detention and to formulate recommendations to the authorities. For the first time, an international treaty focuses on national implementation and provides a national body with specific powers to prevent torture and ill-treatment. Ratifying the protocol would significantly strengthen inspection and monitoring processes where persons are deprived of their liberty. I understand there is a body which inspects prisons but I feel this is relevant in the context of detention. Will the Minister outline if he intends to move towards ratification in the not too distant future.

I commend the justice committee on all the work that went into this report. In particular, I commend my comrade and Chair of the committee, Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this debate. This report into penal reform and sentencing is a very good report and I hope it does not just gather dust on the shelf of a Department, like other reports. There are very many fine and important recommendations within it that deserve to be acted on and I ask the Minister to read it carefully.

I commend the members of the committee who contributed a significant amount of work to produce the report. In particular, I commend Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, who chairs the Committee on Justice and Equality with great diligence and fairness, which is reflected in the fact that the committee works in a politically non-partisan way. This is not the first report the committee has produced. It has produced many other equally useful reports and it will produce more reports soon.

This report could not have been produced without the assistance of the people who came before the committee to give evidence and make submissions in respect of a very complex area of law. In this regard, I acknowledge the role played by the Irish Penal Reform Trust, the Victims Rights Alliance, the Prison Service, the Probation Service, the Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice, the Prison Officers Association and the Simon Communities. They all recognised the complexity of this area, and while each group had its own emphasis and agenda, as they are perfectly entitled to have, the function of politicians and the objective of the committee is to assimilate all these views and present a report that takes into account these conflicting agendas and the conflicting rights that exist in the area of sentencing and penal reform.

The issue of sentencing and penal reform only becomes an operative issue after the commission of a criminal offence, which will necessarily involve the existence of a victim. It is the function of politicians - the committee in this case - to ensure we balance the rights of victims to have the crimes against them investigated and their perpetrators punished with the responsibility of the State to ensure people who are imprisoned are provided with some form of rehabilitation. Society has a function to ensure we do not see penal policy and sentencing as being solely related to punishment, as they clearly are not.

This is a difficult balancing act for politicians to perform but we must seek to take into account all conflicting rights.

There are two aspects to the report - sentencing and penal reform. On sentencing, up to now there has been too much concentration on the sentencing of criminal offences being limited to terms of imprisonment and fines. This is probably the same all over the world. Any statute passed, regardless of its nature, generally has within it a reference to offences that can be committed and subsequent to that will be a section setting out the sentence for the commission of the offence.

If a case can be prosecuted summarily, there is, in general, provision for a short prison sentence and a small fine and if it can be prosecuted on indictment then, there is a longer prison sentence and a larger fine. We need to recognise that the sentencing options available to a court need to be broadened. That obligation rests on the Houses of the Oireachtas but it is also apparent that some sentences could be availed of by courts but they are not. Paragraph 23 of the report notes that, in the context of drugs offences, there should be more extensive use of non-custodial treatment options for offenders. It is also important to note that the court may also order that offenders complete a course of education, instruction or training that will improve their job prospects or social circumstances, facilitate their social rehabilitation or reduce their likelihood of committing further drugs offences.

The report states, correctly, that those options do not seem to be sufficiently utilised in practice. We need to ensure they are utilised more. If it is on the Statute Book and not being utilised enough, then we, as the sole and exclusive lawmakers within the State, have to ensure the laws are amended to make sure it is used as a frequent option. The Minister mentioned the community return scheme, which is also referenced in the report. We need to recognise that the only option should not be that someone is fined or imprisoned. People need to be put on community service and receive the benefit of that.

The other issue is sentencing of youths. It is a tragedy to see a young person aged 15 or 16 before the Children's Court. Many of us can see that unless that child is diverted from the path he or she is on at that stage, inevitably, he or she will end up before the courts for the commission of more serious offences. It is as sure as night follows day. We need to provide further resources for youth diversion projects and to enhance and protect them. Additional resources are also needed to ensure that if a child at a young age is identified on a path towards social misbehaviour, leading inevitably towards criminality, that we as a State and republic try to deter that child from continuing on that path. That is our responsibility and that is not easy. Let us look at how we would react if that child was in a school and he or she had special needs and special requirements. We would devote resources to it. We need to do the same for a child who is identified as being in trouble at an early stage.

When it comes to penal reform, prisons are places for violent offenders and sexual offenders likely to reoffend, recidivist offenders continually committing serious crimes and people who engage in the most foolish acts late at night and do not realise the consequences. Many violent deaths in this country occur as a result of one punch thrown late at night with drink taken. The individual receiving the punch is momentarily concussed, hits his or her head on the ground and dies. That has happened on numerous occasions. Any consultant in Ireland, or in other countries, will identify that the head hitting the ground as the cause of that death.

In such instances, where there is a family, there also has to be a prison sentence. It may be that there should also be a prison sentence for people involved in serious financial crimes as well. I am not trying to provide a list of circumstances where prison is only suitable. We need to recognise, however, that we need to reduce committals to prisons. The Minister, and the report, mentioned that we have relatively low rate of committals in Ireland. The Minister mentioned 78 or 79 per 100,000. I was pleased that, according to the Prison Service report released early this week, there were 9,287 committals in 2017 compared to 15,100 in 2016. That is a significant reduction because of new fines legislation. It does not, unfortunately, appear to have reduced the prison population.

We gone through this charade for many years where if a person is committed to prison for non-payment of a fine, he or she is in and out momentarily. We should not put people in prison for failure to pay fines. We need more innovative measures to deal with that and that was provided for in the 2014 legislation which reformed fines and recovery of payments. We need to recognise that we need to advance our penal reform and, as the report says, when it comes to addiction and mental health that we do not just abandon people in prison. If it was anyone close to us had a serious drug problem, it would not be satisfactory for him or her to just be put on methadone or left to cope with another drug. We need to work to ensure people with mental health and addiction problems in prison are protected. I could go on because it is an interesting topic and a useful report. I ask colleagues to read it and the Minister to give it serious consideration.

I thank all the Deputies and the Chairman of the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality, in particular, for their contributions to the debate. I will of take on board the points made. I welcome the report, which is a valuable contribution to the debate on issues of sentencing and penal reform. I share its long-standing commitment to this area. Progressive reforms of the penal policy and modernisation of the prison system have taken place in recent years. It is an ongoing process of work and I am happy to continue to engage on this with the committee and Members of the House.

The wide-ranging nature of the recommendations in a number of areas is impressive. Many are linked with, and complementary, to the current reform programme being implemented. Penal reform is a challenge to tackle. Reform takes time and patience but it also takes resources and commitment. I encourage Deputies to review the report of the implementation and oversight group tasked with implementing the recommendations of the PPRG. These reports give a fair reflection of the awareness of the issues in my Department and show the body of work already done.

Furthermore, the interagency group on co-operation for a fairer and safer Ireland is due to submit its first report to me in the near future. I am informed that the committee's report was raised at a recent meeting and will be discussed in more detail at the next meeting. The interdepartmental group to examine issues with people with mental illness who come into contact with the criminal justice system will submit its second report to me in the coming weeks. The recommendations of this report and the group's first report will then be considered. I reiterate that reform takes commitment and resources and I assure Deputies of my commitment to that. I am satisfied that some of the points made indicate that the Department of Justice and Equality, the Irish Prison Service and the Probation Service are committed to continuing the progressive reform that has begun.

I will ensure the necessary resources are in place to match this commitment. This can be seen in the recommencement of recruitment in the Irish Prison Service last year, when 85 new staff joined the service. The new staff will ensure the service is renewed and have the capacity to continue to provide for safe and secure custody and rehabilitation in all prisons throughout the country. Recruitment is continuing this year when it is anticipated approximately 200 further prison officers will be recruited.

I acknowledge the points made by Deputy Jim O'Callaghan made about alternatives to prison and the need to ensure prisons are a place of last resort for the courts. It is essential on every occasion that the courts have a menu of alternatives to placing people in custodial detention.

The report is informative, detailed and comprehensive. It has many implications for the services involved in terms of policy, infrastructure, responsibilities and resources. As such, I will need time to examine it thoroughly with my officials to ascertain how we might chart an avenue to make progress. I assure the House, as we near the end of another Dáil term, that I am very open to engaging with the Chairman of the committee on the report and the recommendations contained therein. I trust that I will have an opportunity to do so in the early autumn.

The Minister has acknowledged the work of the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality in this area and confirmed that the report and its 29 recommendations are receiving his full attention and consideration. I welcome his confirmation. There has not been extensive participation in the debate, but I thank my colleague on the committee, Deputy Jim O'Callaghan, and Deputy Louise O'Reilly who was deputising for Deputy Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire who was unable to attend.

I urge the adoption and implementation of the recommendations of the committee and point out that the report and its recommendations are the product of thorough, all-party and non-party engagement with key representatives of all of the major representative bodies engaged in or concerned with the penal system. It is the unanimous product of extensive deliberation. I record my thanks to all members of the committee for their personal attention to and investment of time in the process. I also thank the clerk and the staff of the committee for the backup and support they provided; they were greatly valued.

The matter is now in the hands of the Minister. I hope that when we next engage with him, as we did recently on general issues of mutual concern, he will report favourably on the adoption and implementation of the recommendations on penal reform and sentencing made by the committee. I thank him for his attendance and acknowledgment of the recommendations. I also thank the Acting Chairman for accommodating the debate

Question put and agreed to.
The Dáil adjourned at 6.05 p.m. until 2 p.m. on Tuesday, 3 July 2018.