Priority Questions. - Sex Offender Treatment Programme.

Tuesday, 15 June 1999

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 506 No. 2

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  36.  Ms Shortall  Information on Róisín Shortall  Zoom on Róisín Shortall   asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform  Information on John O'Donoghue  Zoom on John O'Donoghue   the plans, if any, he has to extend treatment services for sex offenders in prison; the number of additional places he will provide; and the timescale involved. [15390/99]

Mr. O'Donoghue: Information on John O'Donoghue  Zoom on John O'Donoghue  There are two forms of treatment available to sex offenders while serving sentences: group treatment and individual counselling. At present there are the equivalent of 29 full-time professionals and two consultants engaged in treatment and rehabilitation programmes for sex offenders in prison. Four of these deliver the dedicated sex offender programme in Arbour Hill prison and the remainder deliver one-to-one counselling.

My Department has examined the possibility of locating a group treatment programme for ten sex offenders at the Curragh place of detention. I am pleased to confirm that this programme should be in place by the end of this year. In view of the specialist skills necessary to set up and run such a programme, it is taking some time to put a new programme in place. However, the recruitment of additional staff for the psychology and probation and welfare services will enable the programme to proceed. The new Curragh programme will be modelled on the sex offender treatment programme which has operated successfully in Arbour Hill prison since 1994.

Individual counselling is available in all the institutions housing sex offenders and is provided [154] by my Department's clinical psychology service and-or by the probation and welfare service. Both the clinical psychology service and the probation and welfare service are under separate review by two expert groups at present. The expert groups are mandated to review and report on the future role, needs, structure and organisation of both services. I anticipate the early conclusion of the work of the expert groups. At this point, in advance of their reports, it is not possible to predict the extent of any further possible expansion of the treatment programmes for sex offenders in prisons to be delivered by both services. However, in the meantime, the recruitment of further psychologists for the prison service is under way. This will bring the number of psychologists in the prison service to ten and will enhance the services provided for the treatment of offenders, including sex offenders.

Ms Shortall: Information on Róisín Shortall  Zoom on Róisín Shortall  If the Minister accepts that providing rehabilitation services is a key element in ensuring greater public safety and tackling the crime problem, particularly sexual offences, why is it that the existing provision – ten places – is so miserable? The Minister's plans to extend this, announced today, are extremely conservative.

Mr. O'Donoghue: Information on John O'Donoghue  Zoom on John O'Donoghue  While I accept it is important that treatment is provided, the best available advice is that the individual should volunteer and be suitable for treatment. As it is accepted that the number of places available at Arbour Hill Prison is inadequate, I have made arrangements to provide a further ten places at Curragh Prison at the earliest possible date. The number of sex offenders in prison is not contracting. While one-to-one counselling is available, group sessions can be difficult for the individual concerned. This may explain why individuals will not volunteer. In general, the treatment programme is successful and I am moving to expand it.

Ms Shortall: Information on Róisín Shortall  Zoom on Róisín Shortall  Is the Minister implying that an insufficient number volunteer or are suitable? How many sex offenders serving prison sentences are deemed suitable? How many have volunteered?

Mr. O'Donoghue: Information on John O'Donoghue  Zoom on John O'Donoghue  All those who apply and are deemed suitable receive treatment prior to release.

Ms Shortall: Information on Róisín Shortall  Zoom on Róisín Shortall  Is the Minister saying that only ten prisoners are deemed suitable for treatment each year?

Mr. O'Donoghue: Information on John O'Donoghue  Zoom on John O'Donoghue  I am not saying that. Each individual must volunteer and be deemed suitable. Up to ten sex offenders successfully complete the dedicated group programme each year. I am moving to expand the number of places available which is inadequate.

[155]Ms Shortall: Information on Róisín Shortall  Zoom on Róisín Shortall  Is the Minister saying that only 20 prisoners are deemed suitable?

Mr. O'Donoghue: Information on John O'Donoghue  Zoom on John O'Donoghue  I am not saying that. I cannot be definitive about the numbers.

Ms Shortall: Information on Róisín Shortall  Zoom on Róisín Shortall  How many?

Mr. O'Donoghue: Information on John O'Donoghue  Zoom on John O'Donoghue  There is a growing number of sex offenders in custody.

Mr. Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin  Zoom on Brendan Howlin  But not places.

Mr. O'Donoghue: Information on John O'Donoghue  Zoom on John O'Donoghue  It must be clear to everybody that the number of places required is in a state of flux.

Ms Shortall: Information on Róisín Shortall  Zoom on Róisín Shortall  Hopelessly inadequate.


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