Director General Caron McCaffrey of the Irish Prison Service Launched the Progress in the Penal System 2019 Report 25th October 2019 - October 25th, 2019

Speech by Caron McCaffrey, Director General of the Irish Prison Service at the Launch of the Progress in the Penal System 2019 Report 25th  October 2019

Executive Director of the IPRT (Fiona Ní Chinneide), Inspector of Prisons, colleagues and invited guests.

I am very pleased to have been invited to address you today at the launch of the 2019 Progress in the Penal System Report.

Firstly, I would like to acknowledge Fiona Ní Chinneide and her team here in IPRT and to recognise the very valuable contribution you make to the development of penal policy in Ireland. We in the Irish Prison Service, pay close attention to the important publications from the Irish Penal Reform Trust, and many positive developments within the Prison System, have been influenced by your research and the publications produced by IPRT down through the years.

With regard to the PIPS Report in particular, I would like to especially recognise Michelle Martyn for her work on developing this important review of the penal system. I want to assure you that this document is very valuable to ourselves in the Irish Prison Service, and indeed, to our colleagues in the wider criminal justice system.

This year’s Report highlights many areas where progress has been achieved in 2018.  I am pleased to note that there have been more areas of progress than regress and this is an acknowledgement of the achievements that have been realised by our Service in recent years.

It is important to acknowledge that critical to our successes, has been the collaboration and support that we have received from the many stakeholders that work with our Service every day, and many of you have joined with us here this morning.

This document also highlights many of the significant challenges facing the criminal justice system, and I say criminal justice system rather than just the Irish Prison Service because as Ian O’Donnell rightly says in his foreword to this document “The prison cannot be seen in isolation”.  Many people come in contact with the criminal justice system at different times and for different reasons. Addressing the causes of offending needs action from a multitude of stakeholders, within the criminal justice system and beyond.

As I have said we have achieved a lot as a Service in recent years including–

  • The removal of children from the adult prison system;
  • Improved prison facilities and the almost full elimination of slopping out;
  • An increased focus on structured release and re-integration of offenders from custody back into their communities and;
  • An increased focus on the importance of family contact and relationships

It is important to note that many of these achievements were made possible by the reduction in prison numbers that we experienced between 2011 and 2017.

As we know however, since the beginning of 2018 we have seen a sudden reversal of this trend and the increase in the number of prisoners in custody poses a significant risk and challenge for us.   By June this year, the number in custody had increased to over 4,000, and the number of prisoners on temporary release had more than doubled to over 300.

Increases in committals on remand continues to be a factor. Earlier this month the number held solely on a remand warrant exceeded 800 or 21% of the entire prison population on that day.

Given the sustained increase in the numbers in custody I am taking a number of steps to ensure that we have the capacity to safely accommodate those committed to prison by the courts and whom we must accept into custody.

This includes amendments to the criteria for the Community Return Scheme. However, not all persons are suitable for early release and if the decision has to be made between releasing a person unsuitable for temporary release or introducing contingency measures to provide additional accommodation for prisoners then, in the interest of public safety,  I have no option but to identify and provide additional capacity within the system.

As part of the plan to address rising numbers we are also amending our Open Centre Policy to maximize the use of both Shelton Abbey and Loughan House. This will allow certain cohorts of prisoners who are suitable for a lower level security regime to advance to open centres much earlier in their sentence and in some cases immediately on committal.

Overcrowding in our female accommodation in both Dóchas and Limerick has been a consistent issue for some time.  A new step down facility was opened in May 2019 for female offenders providing 7 beds and it is expected that a further 3 apartments will come on stream in early 2020.  Work is progressing on the construction of our new facility in Limerick Prison which will address the long term overcrowding that has been experienced in that prison, and will provide much needed facilities for female prisoners.

In 2014, the Strategic Review of Penal Policy recommended the adoption of a strategy to reduce prisoner numbers and a focus on alternative approaches on the treatment of offenders.   The Irish Prison Service continues to work as part of the group to oversee the implementation of the important recommendations set out in that Report.

While we have achieved much in recent years, we know that there are still challenges to be faced and those challenges will only be addressed by continued collaboration with our criminal justice partners. We must ensure that we have a criminal justice system that sees imprisonment as one part of the overall response to preventing crime; reducing re-offending; and making our communities safer – which is our ultimate goal.

Following my appointment as Director General, I set about working with our senior managers, at Headquarters and at prison level, to identify our priorities and create our shared vision for the Irish Prison Service. This vision, which is set out in our Strategic Plan, was published by the Minister for Justice and Equality in September. This Strategy sets out broad, outcome focused strategic aims and implementation of this Plan will be critical to addressing the many challenges that face our organisation.

Our Strategy, which is built around 5 Key Pillars: Staff Support; Prisoner Support; Safe Secure Custody; the Prison Estate; and finally Governance, sets out how we will continue to build on the progress we have realised in recent years.  In delivering on this Plan we will seek to continue to deliver more effective rehabilitation for prisoners, to create a more supporting environment for our staff, to enhance and invest in our prison estate and to ensure the prison environment is safer for all those who work, live and visit our prisons.

Over the years there have been many calls for reform of the governance structures in our Service and we have set out in this Strategy, ambitious plans to strengthen governance. We have been working closely with the Department of Justice and Equality to redesign our structures to deliver better governance and higher levels of openness, transparency, compliance and accountability, at all levels in our Service.

Recently, the Minister for Justice and Equality announced his commitment to the appointment of a new Prison Service Advisory Board and I welcome this commitment.

The functions of the Advisory Board will include scrutinising our systems of internal control; risk management and how we support delivery of our service throughout our operations. These functions will be delivered through the establishment of a number of sub-committees of the Board namely –  a Risk and an Audit Committee.

In addition, a third committee – a Culture Committee will be established to support a culture and ethos in our organisation which ensures staff at all levels operate with integrity, a strong commitment to ethical values, and respect for the rule of law.   The Committee will oversee compliance with Section 42 of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Act 2014 and establish a positive duty on our organisation to have regard for the need to eliminate discrimination, promote equality and protect the human rights of staff and people to whom services are provided.

I have recently appointed an equality, diversity and inclusion lead who will be central in supporting us on delivering on these commitments.

We are a Service that wants to grow, learn and develop into a best in class public service and I welcome the support that a board will bring and the opportunity to account for and report on the delivery of our strategic objectives.

Changes to our governance structure at national level will be supported by the introduction of a new functional structure at prison level, which also aims to further enhance our effectiveness and accountability on the ground.  It will also provide for more, effective, efficient and more supportive working relationships between staff at the front line and those based in Headquarters.

To support our enhanced accountability and new governance framework, we also have a number of important initiatives underway.

We are establishing a new Risk Management Framework across the whole service. It will facilitate the active management, reporting and monitoring of risks which will increase awareness about the importance of risk management and facilitate reporting of risk at all levels throughout the Service. Implementing a better reporting and risk management system will enhance safe and secure custody, and support and inform better decision making and outcomes, which further enables us to take a more proactive approach and implement preventative measures.

Another area which I am keen to develop and enhance is our capability to analyse data and I am delighted that Chief Information Officer from the Department of Justice and Equality , Gurchand Singh is speaking to you later regarding the importance of data and research in the Department.

We are currently reviewing all of the information we gather and looking at how we can improve our data analysis and reporting. A deeper understanding of our business will allow us to deliver more data informed strategy and policy and turn our focus away from being reactive to proactive.

The changes to our governance structures will make the Irish Prison Service more effective, but most importantly, it will allow us to deliver on our national and international obligations to prisoners.

By providing fit for purpose structures which enhance our effectiveness, we will be better able to deliver on our mission and provide better services, better supports and thus achieve better outcomes for prisoners, which will benefit all our communities.

In her presentation Michelle has given a good overview of some of the key issues facing the criminal justice system. Many of these are not new and are not easily addressed. Some of these are “spotlighted” in the Report and I think it is important that I mention some of them today.

In 2015, following its visit to Ireland, the CPT gave a negative assessment of prison healthcare services.

As you know the CPT returned to Ireland in September this year and carried out inspections of a number of our prisons.  While the provision of healthcare services continues to be challenging I am pleased to advise that the CPT gave a much more positive report in their initial findings reporting a marked improvement in the provision of healthcare services in Irish prisons.

While the positive comments by the CPT are welcome, much more needs to be done to improve and resource our healthcare services.

The process of reviewing healthcare services in prisons is underway and an interdepartmental steering group including officials from the Irish Prison Service and Department of Health has been established to oversee a Health Needs Assessment of those in our care.

This review will establish the current levels of service, the health needs of the prisoner population and how best to align prison healthcare with the broader health system provided by the HSE.

While conducting a review of overall healthcare in prisons, the provision of services for prisoners with severe and enduring mental illness, which is also spotlighted in this Report, will be vitally

important.  As we know there are people currently in custody in prisons who require psychiatric inpatient care.

Addressing the challenges of providing appropriate care for people with severe and enduring mental illness is arguably the most challenging issue facing the criminal justice system, and the Irish Prison Service today.

The future opening of the new CMH facility in Portrane will result in a small number of additional extra beds being available to the Irish Prison Service and this is welcome. However, the additional capacity still falls short of meeting the needs of the prisoners in our care who need to be accommodated in a more appropriate environment.

An Interdepartmental Group to examine issues relating to people with mental illness who come into contact with the criminal justice system was established in 2012 and their final Report is due to be published shortly. The Department of Justice and Equality, the Irish Prison Service and the Department of Health have been actively discussing how we can make improvements to the care afforded to prisoners with mental illness and plan to work together to identify short, medium and long term solutions to ensure that those suffering from serious mental illness receive the appropriate treatment and care that they need and are entitled to.

Work has continued to take the necessary steps to introduce a new prisoner complaints system. The new policy is finalised and the development and testing of the IT system to support the roll out is almost complete. It is important that our new system has fairness at its core and has the confidence and support of both prisoners and staff.

Central to this will be a comprehensive awareness campaign for both prisoners and staff, which will be rolled out before the end of this year, to help built trust in the system.

Following our introduction of the new system the Irish Prison Service will conduct the appeals process until such time as the Ombudsman has the capacity to take on this vital role.

To conclude, I want to again acknowledge the importance of this Report. As an organisation, we recognise the importance of oversight and the opportunity to identify, learn from, and address the challenges that arise.

The challenges our organisation faces in the coming years, will be met by building on the on the existing solid foundations upon which our Service is built – our staff, at all levels of our organisation.

In our wrap up meeting with the CPT, the Committee noted that they had received an unprecedented amount of positive comments about staff by prisoners. Our staff were complimented for the fair manner in which they treat prisoners and for the approachable nature they exhibit on a daily basis.  The Committee felt from talking to staff and prisoners, that there is a genuine concern among staff for those in our care.

As Director General, I am proud to hear such a positive review and I am confident that the dedication and professionalism of our staff and their willingness work to improve the service we provide, will ensure that the Irish Prison Service will continue to make a difference to the lives of those is our care, and will continue to play a key role in making Ireland safer for all our citizens.

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