Written answers

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform

Prison Education Service

2:30 pm

Photo of Tommy BroughanTommy Broughan (Dublin North East, Independent)
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Question 600: To ask the Minister for Justice and Law Reform the way the prison system interacts with local and national training and jobs agencies such as the Northside Partnership, other partnership companies nationwide and the city and county VECs; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1519/11]

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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I can advise the Deputy that over 70% of prisoners are unemployed on committal and a similar percentage of these prisoners self-report as not having any particular trade or sectoral occupation. Employment is a vital factor in reducing recidivism - international research has shown that employment on release can reduce the risk of re-offending by between a third and a half. Improved vocational skills and competencies are essential for placement post-release in employability options. The Irish Prison Service, therefore, places a strong emphasis on the provision of vocational training activities and courses for prisoners.

Training activities are chosen to give as much employment as possible in prison and to give opportunities to acquire skills which will help prisoners secure employment on their release. A wide range of training workshops operate within the institutions, e.g. printing, computers, woodwork, metalwork, construction, industrial contract cleaning, craft, horticulture, braille and electronics. In addition, formal training is also provided in prison services such as catering and laundry.

The Irish Prison Service is developing enhanced partnership arrangements with both City and Guilds and the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) which will allow for centralised and coordinated management of the accreditation process and an expansion in the number of courses and activities with certification. The skills areas, where additional certified courses will be delivered in the coming years, include painting and decorating, storage and warehousing, fork-lift driving, catering, metal/welding, construction, horticulture, electronics and laundry operations.

In regard to employability placement programmes, Business in the Community Ireland (BITC) is the main provider of support in this area. Since its inception in 2000, the BITC Linkage Programme has been providing a professional guidance and placement service, in partnership with the Probation Service, to persons on probation and to prisoners and ex-prisoners. Currently, the community-based BITC Linkage Programme Training and Employment Officers (TEOs) provide an inreach clinic service to prisoners in eight of the country's fourteen institutions. Since 2007, a new BITC programme - the GATE Service - has been operating in the other six institutions - Mountjoy, Dóchas, St Patrick's Institution, the Training Unit, Midlands and Portlaoise Prisons. Funded by the Irish Prison Service, four GATE Service TEOs work on a full-time basis in the prisons concerned and provide a training, education and employment placement service. From the start-up of the service in the summer of 2007 to the end of 2010, 1,438 referrals have been made to the TEOs. Of those 601 remain engaged post-release, 430 of whom have been placed in training, education or employment.

BITC personnel interact with all national services to maximise the opportunities for prisoners on release from prison. They also interact with any local services that similarly can support the reintegration of prisoners. At national level, the Gate and Linkage Services, the Irish Prison Service, the Probation Service and FÁS have agreed a protocol to facilitate the smooth and effective referral of prisoners and ex-prisoners to FÁS courses and their successful completion of the identified programme. BITC's social inclusion programmes also interact with the Department of Social Protection, in particular with the Jobs Facilitators, and, where appropriate, with the Community Welfare Officers of the HSE.

TEOs working with the Gate or Linkage Services and mentors working with the Mentoring Service, interact with local partnerships to access the full range of services that may be available. These include accessing training programmes, support, funding and advice about services in the county, as well as participating on committees and projects. For example TEOs have been involved with the Northside, Tallaght, Laois, Kerry and Sligo Leader Partnerships, Drugs Task Forces, Traveller Initiatives, Community Action Projects and Community Development Projects.

The Irish Prison Service also worked directly with Cork, Galway and Roscommon area partnerships on the You're EQUAL project which ran from 2005 to the end of 2008 with a combination of ESF and participating organisation funding including the Irish Prison Service. The pilot project focused on providing integrated training, mentoring and guidance to prisoners and former prisoners from Cork and Castlerea Prisons. Over the lifetime of the project throughcare mentoring support was provided to over 190 prisoners. The pilot experience informed the new mentoring initiative which is co-funded through Dormant Accounts and Irish Prison Service funding which is being run by BITC and went operational in a number of prisons in 2009.

The Irish Prison Service participated in and presented at a seminar in October 2007 organised by the Network of Ex-prisoner Voluntary Agencies (NEVA) in conjunction with Pobal. The seminar was organised for staff of Area Partnerships and was aimed at building and strengthening their work with ex-prisoners and their families in the context of their social inclusion programmes. The Irish Prison Service subsequently provided profile and statistical information to partnerships on request to assist them in the development of strategies focused on this target group.

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