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Ceisteanna – Questions. Priority Questions. - Prison Medical Service.

Thursday, 17 October 2002

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 555 No. 4

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 1. Mr. Deasy Information on John Deasy Zoom on John Deasy  asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform Information on Michael McDowell Zoom on Michael McDowell  the number of convicted sex offenders receiving rehabilitative treatment in correctional facilities; and the number who are currently waiting for treatment. [18609/02]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. McDowell): Information on Michael McDowell Zoom on Michael McDowell On 29 September 2002 there were 348 prisoners in custody for sexual offences. As my predecessor has explained to this House on a number of occasions, there are currently four forms of direct therapeutic intervention available to sex offenders within the prison system. These are individual counselling from the Prison Service's psychology service and from the probation and welfare service; the multi-disciplinary thinking skills group work programme in Cork Prison, Arbour Hill Prison and the Curragh Place of Detention; the sex offender treatment programme, which has been in operation in Arbour Hill Prison since 1994 and was introduced in the Curragh Place of Detention in 2000; and the psychiatric service which provides extensive support to prisoners in this category.

Every effort is made to assist sex offenders in custody who are willing to participate at some level in their personal rehabilitation and relapse prevention. While it is not possible to accurately quantify participation rates in all forms of rehabilitation, many of those in custody have availed of one or more of the forms of intervention to which I referred.

Sixteen offenders are recruited to the sex offender programme annually, eight in Arbour Hill and eight in the Curragh Place of Detention. Eighty four prisoners have completed the programme to date. In addition, on average, 48 offenders are recruited annually to the thinking skills course, 16 in Arbour Hill, 16 in Cork Prison and 16 in the Curragh Place of Detention. Some [1097] 194 offenders have completed the thinking skills course to date.

The number of offenders undergoing one-to-one counselling is difficult to define because of the varied nature of individual counselling provided to sex offenders in prison. This counselling can vary from one session addressing a particular problem to intensive ongoing counselling. One of the main aims of individual counselling of sex offenders is to motivate them to address their offending behaviour. In response to such counselling many offenders, who initially might deny responsibility for their crime or deny any need for treatment, are motivated towards some process of change.

Additional informationFor some offenders this results in their undertaking the sex offender treatment programme at Arbour Hill Prison or the Curragh Place of Detention, for others it results in sustained individual therapy around their offending or engagement in some other programme available in the prison system, for example, the thinking skills course, group skills programme, etc.

The sex offender treatment programme takes about nine months to complete. When pre-programme and post-programme assessment is included, the timeframe for completing the programme is about 11 months. On average, 10% to 20% of offenders eligible to apply for the sex offender programmes apply for them each year. Priority is given to those offenders who are closest to their release dates but who still have sufficient time left to complete the programme.

As regards the number of sex offenders who are waiting to participate in the sex offender programme, the position in this regard is best illustrated by the following figures for 2002. There was a total of 45 applicants for the two sex offender programmes this year. Sixteen offenders have been offered places. The remaining 29 constitute a waiting list for the two programmes. Of these, the vast majority have sufficient time left in their sentence to complete the programme at a future date.

Mr. Deasy: Information on John Deasy Zoom on John Deasy I thank the Minister for his reply, which appears to indicate that not a great deal of therapeutic treatment is being provided. Does the Minister agree it is extremely worrying that a recent study commissioned by the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, which was carried out by the Royal College of Surgeons, found that over 40% of women and 28% of men face the threat of sexual abuse during the course of their lifetime? Not a great number of sex offenders are being treated in prisons, which is disturbing because the recidivism rate among sex offenders, in some cases, is appalling.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon A question, please, Deputy.

[1098]Mr. Deasy: Information on John Deasy Zoom on John Deasy We have a higher rate of sexual abuse than other country in Europe or state in the US. People with this problem who have offended are not being treated in prisons. The scale of the problem will only get worse if this position does not change.

Mr. McDowell: Information on Michael McDowell Zoom on Michael McDowell I agree with the general thrust of what the Deputy said. It is essential that we move quickly to the position that all sex offenders are offered adequate counselling and therapy appropriate to their case. We cannot have a situation where people are compelled to take part in programmes against their will or in circumstances where they will not co-operate with the process. There is no doubt that the figures I outlined are indicative, to some extent, of the fact that not every offender is getting formalised sex offender therapy programme treatment at this stage.

The Deputy will be interested to know that the sex offender treatment programme takes nine months to complete. The timeframe for completing the programme, when account is taken of pre-programme and post-programme assessment, is 11 months. On average, 10% to 20% of offenders eligible to apply for the sex offender programme apply for it each year. Priority is given to those offenders who are closest to their release dates but who have sufficient time left to complete the programme.

As regards the number of sex offenders who are waiting to participate in the programme, the position is best illustrated by pointing out that in 2002 there was a total of 45 applicants for the two sex offender programmes, but only 16 of them were offered places. The remaining 29 constitute a waiting list for those programmes and, of those the great majority have sufficient time left in their sentences to complete the programme at a future date.

Those figures indicate that there is room for significant improvement. From my days as a barrister representing people who were before the courts for sentence for these types of offences, I recall that I was acutely aware of the deficiencies in the extent of the treatment available. Progress is being made, but I share the Deputy's view that greater progress must be made.

Mr. Deasy: Information on John Deasy Zoom on John Deasy I appreciate the Minister's acknowledgement of the problem that exists. He pinpointed the issue when he indicated that 45 applicants applied to participate in the programmes, but of those only 16 received treatment. These people have committed horrendous crimes, but even when they want treatment, they are not being allowed it. We need to address this matter.


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