I wish to inform the Deputy that the Irish Prison Service has advised that it provides a range of therapeutic, support and counselling services to prisoners. These services remain in place throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
In order to contain the risk of infection during the COVID-19 pandemic, a range of measures, including restrictions on the type of access to prisons and prisoners has been required to protect the prison population in line with public health advice. These measures have impacted the traditional manner of service delivery by the Psychology and Addiction Counselling Services. However, notwithstanding the challenges imposed by managing traditionally close-contact services during a pandemic, it is important to note that these services have not been suspended at any time to date.
The restrictions imposed by COVID-19 have required the development of new ways of working to support prisoners. Prisoner support services have adapted working arrangements to respond innovatively to maximise opportunities for prisoner engagement by employing a combination of mediums including telephony, video-link and one-to-one contact, where deemed clinically necessary.
Throughout the public health crisis, every attempt has been made, and continues to be made, to maintain psychological, addiction and other counselling services for those with an identified need. All prisons and prison-based services have displayed flexibility and adaptability and have used all mediums available to engage with the prison population.
In order to maintain a safe environment and limit the spread of infection for prisoners and staff during the COVID-19 pandemic, it has not been possible to permit access to prisons for some additional external community-based offender support, and peer support services and programmes.
However, where possible, video-link appointments with some of these community-based services have been facilitated in line with the recommendations of the community integration plan and identified needs of the particular prisoner.
Access to prisons for external services remains under continuous review and will be guided by public health advice to minimise the risk of infection to people who live and work in prisons.
In terms of accessing rehabilitative services prior to release, the Prison Service has dedicated prison officers called Integrated Sentence Management (ISM) Coordinators which are operational in all prisons and open centres. Additional ISM Coordinators work in partnership with the Probation Service to manage prisoners selected for participation in the Joint Agency Response to Crime, Community Support and Community Return Schemes.
These Integrated Sentence Management Coordinators are 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 Training & Employment Service, the Resettlement Service, the Addiction Service and the Healthcare team, who work together with operational staff to deliver sentence management and services to prisoners.