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Justice | Rehabilitation provisions for first time offenders

To ask the Minister for Justice the degree to which educational or rehabilitative provision is being made for first-time offenders while in prison with a view to preventing recidivism; and if she will make a statement on the matter.

The Irish Prison Service provides a wide range of rehabilitative programmes that offer purposeful activity to prisoners while serving their sentences and which encourage them to lead law abiding lives on release.  All prisoners are eligible to use the services, including those who are first-time offenders. The Service does not collect data on the number of first time offenders who availed on these services.

The Prison Service Strategic Plan 2019 – 2022 committed to further develop the integration of prisoner care and support services to deliver more effective rehabilitation to prisoners. It committed to enhance sentence planning through Integrated Sentence Management. To this end, the Irish Prison Service has changed the role of Integrated Sentence Management (ISM) Coordinator to a rostered position in all committal prisons to extend the reach of the service to evenings and weekends and increased the number of WTO-ISM Coordinator posts in Cork and Midlands Prisons.

The Integrated Sentence Management service is offered to all prisoners serving greater than 1 year and some discreet cohorts serving less than one year including candidates for the Community Support Scheme, people convicted of a sex offence, and female prisoners.

In July 2021, the Irish Prison Service introduced a new central management ICT platform on the Prisoner Information Management System (PIMS) to capture and monitor the work of Integrated Sentence Management Coordinators and members of the multi-disciplinary team. Since July 2021, prisoner multi-disciplinary sentence plans agreed by the prison-based team are now printed and shared with the prisoner to guide the prisoner’s ownership of their sentence management.  This centralised information-sharing resource also assists prison-based services to improve the transition from custody to the community for offenders, with the overall aim of reducing risk to the individual and reducing risk of recidivism, while improving accountability and transparency.

Between 5 July 2021 and 17 October 2022, just under 5,000 Integrated Sentence Management interviews were conducted face-to-face with prisoners to inform and direct referrals to prison based rehabilitative service providers and over 3,000 prisoner multi-disciplinary sentence plans have been agreed.

Work on multi-disciplinary sentence plans is resource intensive but work is progressing in each prison to develop an individual multi-disciplinary sentence plan for all Integrated Sentence Management-eligible prisoners on a gradual basis. Once the initial plan is agreed for the prisoner the new ICT system records the need for the plan to be reviewed a minimum of once-per-year but the plan can be reviewed and updated at any time under the direction of the Governor.

The prisons Work and Training service make available work, work-training and other purposeful activities to all those in custody. Work Training Officers have been appointed and assigned to areas such as catering, laundry, industrial cleaning and industrial skills.  

The “Working to Change Social Enterprise Strategy – 2021-2023” sets out my Department’s direction for supporting employment options for people with convictions by simultaneously working to remove systemic barriers so that people can make sustainable changes. It builds upon a solid foundation of employment supports already in place across the criminal justice sector and is a collaboration between the Prison and Probation Service and my Department.

The Joint Irish Prison Service/ETBI Education Strategy 2019 – 2022 commits to the provision of broad based education. The Department of Education and Skills provides an allocation of 220 whole time teacher equivalents to the Service.  The focus is on providing education which is quality assured, student centred and which facilitates lifelong learning.  

As well as seeking to draw on best practice in adult and further education in the community, curriculum development that is specific to prison circumstances have taken place, such as courses on addiction, health issues and offending behaviour. Other areas where there has been significant progress in prison education are in physical education, in the provision for higher education, in the arts, in preparing prisoners for release and supporting their transition to life, and often to education, on the outside.  

The Prison Psychology Service provide assessment and intervention and operates a proactive referral service for particular cohorts of people in custody. The Psychology Service proactively engages with the following groups of people:

  • 18 – 24 year olds who are committed to custody with a sentence of one year or more, without Post Release Supervision with the Probation Service;
  • People committed to custody with a sentence of two years or more for a violent offence, without Post Release Supervision with the Probation Service;
  • People convicted of sexual violence;
  • People sentenced to life imprisonment.

The Probation Service has joined this initiative by engaging in assessments with those 18-24 year olds who have Post Release Supervision Orders. This multi-agency approach to offender management and rehabilitation is in place in order to reduce re-offending and improve prisoner outcomes.

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