As the Deputy is aware, the Probation Service is an agency of my Department working to reduce offending, create safer communities and fewer victims through offender rehabilitation informed by evidence-based practice. It has a staff of about 400, located in over 35 community-based offices in every county and in every prison. The Service's budget for 2019 is €47.814m, an increase of €1.569m since 2017. I am informed that, on 1 March 2019, the Service's caseload comprised 10,174 offenders, of whom 8,670 were in the community and 1,504 were in custody.
The primary function of the Service is to supervise offenders by order of the courts. Offenders placed under supervision by the courts are assigned a Probation Officer who conducts a detailed assessment and works with the offender to address the underlying issues related to their offending. Supervision is done in a structured, evidence-based manner, built around a comprehensive case-management plan addressing the factors that have contributed to offending behaviour.
The Probation Service also has responsibility for the supervision and management of community service orders, whereby convicted offenders are sentenced to between 40 and 240 hours unpaid work as an alternative to a custodial prison sentence. I am advised by the Probation Service that, in all cases where the Court imposes a Community Service Order, its objective is to implement the Order as soon as possible. Some delay may occur on occasion, but I am informed that the Service proactively manages its resources to ensure it is responsive to the needs of the Court.
Following a recommendation of the Strategic Review of Penal Policy, the Probation Service developed an integrated model of community service which combines the unpaid work element of community service with a developmental/rehabilitative element aimed at addressing an offender’s identified risks and needs in order to promote desistance from crime. The Service commenced national roll out of this new model on a pilot basis in late 2017. This new model remains under ongoing review by the Probation Service with formal evaluation scheduled for 2019.
Voluntary supervision arises in a small number of cases where an offender consents to be supervised by the Probation Service. Examples of voluntary supervision may include providing support in exceptional circumstances on a voluntary basis to an offender leaving custody who is deemed at high risk of reoffending and/or harm, but who has not been subject to a court order. The Service has also in the past at the request of other jurisdictions provided supervision of offenders on a voluntary/non-statutory basis. The Service has limited scope for undertaking such voluntary supervision of offenders or former offenders, as its key role is to supervise offenders following a direction of the courts under the relevant legal provisions.