20th April 2021
The aim of Interagency Group for a Fairer and Safer Ireland is to enhance interdepartmental and interagency coordination in the rehabilitation of prisoners and the prevention of crime as recommended by the Strategic Review of Penal Policy (2014). The Interagency Group focuses on analysing the nature of the problems faced by people when released from custody and how better interagency cooperation could assist in their reintegration into the community.
In 2019, the Interagency Group noted progress in the following areas:
Access to medical cards for qualified individuals upon release from prison
A medical card is necessary for continuity of care, providing support to maintain medical regimes commenced in prison on return to the community and reduce the risk of re-offending. The application process can be particularly challenging for prisoners.
A pilot scheme that began in Cork in 2018 was rolled out across all prisons in 2019 and was accompanied by an awareness campaign encouraging prisoners to apply for a medical card was run in 2019. By the end of 2019, 412 prisoners had taken the opportunity to acquire a medical card prior to release from prison, up from 183 in 2018. However, issues still remain with the process. These include the three-month review of entitlement to the card in relation to people who are homeless or no longer live at the address provided on release from prison and the difficulty of persuading some general practitioners to accept these people as patients.
Provisions for financial support upon release and improvements in the prisoner application process for public service cards prior to release
Measures put by the DEASP allowed individuals on release to get a temporary public services card to withdraw their first payment at any office. These arrangements should allow prisoners to access the income support they need in their first day in the community. The days after release have been identified as a weak point in the reintegration process, so this measure should help to improve the matter.
Improved co-ordination of training and service planning between the Irish Prison Service (IPS) and the Department of Employment Affairs & Social Protection (DEASP)
The Interagency Group welcomed the agreement in 2019 on a protocol between the IPS, the Probation Service, the IASIO (Irish Association for Social Inclusion Opportunities) and DEASP concerning liaison between the IPS training and employment officers (TEOs) and DEASP INTREO staff on a pilot basis in 4 locations. Under the protocol, TEOs generate a report on prisoner’s participation in training and job preparation activities which is shared with INTREO staff. This facilitates easier access by people on release to appropriate training and job opportunities.
The data sharing arrangements under GDPR between DEASP and the IPS in 2019 allows both organisations to share information with one another to facilitate the reintegration of prisoners into the community.
The Group also notes several areas of concern:
Access to housing post-release continues to be an area of concern. There was an acute shortage of accommodation across the country and most acutely in Dublin, reflecting the crisis in housing provision more generally. The Group notes that frequently, the housing option is only identified within days or hours of release and the accommodation option offered is temporary accommodation or the Housing Assistance Payment for the prisoner to self-accommodate.
However, in some difficult high-need or high-risk cases where no accommodation can be sourced up to the date of release, the IPS has had no choice but to present the prisoner to the local authority public housing desk responsible for providing accommodation on the day of release. This is undesirable as not having an address means that the arrangements for other supports such as healthcare and addiction supports must wait until the last minute.
The Group welcomed the inclusion in 2019 of people who have offended in the Housing First initiative. Housing First is a multi-agency initiative with the objective of providing permanent and lasting homes with ‘wraparound’ support services for people who are chronically homeless. The agencies involved in Housing First are the HSE, the Irish Prison Service, the Probation Service, the Department of Health, the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government and local authorities. The Group was informed that it was planned to offer the first tenancies under this initiative in early 2020.
The Group was informed that sourcing suitable accommodation for persons who have completed a sentence for a sex offence or an arson offence remains very difficult. A major issue is that SORAM (Sex Offenders Risk Assessment & Management Group) is tasked only with managing cases for which there is a Post-Release Supervision Order, which is roughly 50% of the population in custody for a sex offence. In most cases, the person convicted of one of these offences cannot return or is barred from returning to a particular home or area.
Mental health and healthcare services remain a key area of concern for the Group. The new Central Mental Hospital facility, which is scheduled to open in 2020, will provide limited additional beds and is unlikely to impact much on the need for specialised mental healthcare for prisoners. The Group was informed that there are a significant number of prisoners with acute mental health needs whom the IPS considers should be treated in dedicated mental healthcare facilities. Another issue highlighted to the Interagency Group was the need for continuity of care for prisoners with mental health needs on release from prison and Community Mental Health services.
The Review Group on Penal Policy highlighted the need for evidence-based research to inform penal policy and recommended that the Department of Justice and Equality join with other Government Departments and agencies to support research in order to assist in the formulation of penal policy. Proposals for research include:
Read the Interagency Group for a Fairer and Safer Ireland Annual Report 2019 here.
Read the previous reports of the Interagency Group on the Department of Justice website here.