Progress in the
Penal System (PIPS)

34 and 35: Effective reintegration of prisoners

Standard 34:

All prisoners have comprehensive preparation and structured plans for release. National policy and legislation provides for a structured release system.

Standard 35:

Protocols are in place for inter-agency co-ordination in order to ensure the successful reintegration of prisoners on release.

Rationale:

Leaving prison is a particularly vulnerable period for prisoners. Lack of supports upon release can result in poor outcomes. Reintegration means more than rehabilitation. Successful reintegration means that an individual is reintegrated into all aspects of society, including employment, education and community involvement.

Current context:

All prisoners should be prepared for release, and have structured release plans in place. The issue of prisoners having no stable address to which to return was identified by the Joint Strategy Steering Committee (consisting of senior officials from the IPS and the Probation Service) as a factor in the declining number of prisoners being released early under the Community Return Programme.

Cloverhill Prison Visiting Committee has estimated as many as one-third of prisoners are affected by homelessness.[557]

In July 2018, the First Report by the Interagency Group for a Fairer and Safer Ireland was published.[558] The purpose of the group is to review existing pathways that involve interagency co-ordination to improve the integration of offenders. The group has identified a number of challenges for prisoners on release, including the deficit of suitable accommodation and the need for easier access to income support and employment activation. The Inter-Agency Group for a Fairer and Safer Ireland reported its concerns about the impact of the current housing crisis on people coming out of prison and highlighted that the ongoing shortage of accommodation makes it difficult to ensure that no one is homeless upon release from prison.

One example of inter-agency co-operation is a pilot programme agreed between the IPS and the HSE to ensure provision of a temporary medical card before release for those deemed eligible. This pilot programme commenced in 2016 and has since been extended to all prisons including, Mountjoy and Midlands prisons in June 2019.[560]

Having a criminal record can act as a barrier to reintegration. In 2018, the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality recommended a review of spent convictions legislation, highlighting its failure to support people moving on with their lives.[561] On 10 July 2019, the Joint Committee discussed reform of current legislation.[562] IPRT welcomes the introduction of a Private Members Bill, the Criminal Justice (Rehabilitative Periods) Bill 2018.[563].

There was a general consensus among members of the Joint Committee that the proposed Bill could be further strengthened.

Indicators for Standard:

Indicators for Standard 34/35

Indicator S34.1: Comprehensive legislation for release of prisoners.

While the Parole Act 2019 has been signed into law, there has been no new legislation introduced governing the release of prisoners serving sentences of less than eight years.

Indicator S35.1: The review and expansion of spent convictions legislation.

In July 2019, the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality examined the need for more expansive spent convictions legislation, with overall support for reforms in this area.

Analysis

The last 12 months have seen some positive developments in relation to the employment of people with a convictions history: the introduction of a new Bill to strengthen the current spent convictions legislation and an examination by the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice and Equality of the current legislation. The latter was a key action (see Action 34.2) identified in the PIPS 2018 report.[563]

IPRT believes the 2018 Bill does not go far enough to benefit people who may have had a period or cluster of offending in the past.[563] However, we welcome this Bill and recommend that the Joint Committee look towards more progressive regimes in Europe.

Further work needs to be done to assess whether all agencies are working together to improve the outcomes for prisoners on release, particularly in relation to access to accommodation and social supports.

The Department of Housing, Planning and the Environment must play a role in supporting people coming out of prison to access accommodation, in order to prevent a rotating cycle of imprisonment and homelessness.[559] A second annual report by the Group is due for publication.

Status of Standards 34 and 35: Progress

Progressive Practice:

Social Enterprise in the Criminal Justice System

Kickstart is a new scheme set up to create jobs and support social enterprise in the criminal justice sector.[566] Some examples of social enterprises in the criminal justice system are: ‘We Make Good’, a social enterprise that strives to not only provide training in carpentry and upskilling to ex-offenders, but to also create jobs in this area.[567] ‘Mug Shot’ is another social enterprise, which provides training and employment for ex-offenders in the barista industry.[568]

Actions required:

Action 34.1: The Joint Committee on Justice and Equality should consider commissioning a review of progressive spent convictions legislation across other European jurisdictions to inform its work.
Action 35.1: The Inter-Agency Group should examine ways in which inter-agency co-ordination can be improved in order to address homelessness upon release.

References:

Irish Penal Reform Trust

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