Prisons seek to ease fears over backlog of sex offenders for treatment programme

Arbour Hill prison
By Noel Baker
Senior Reporter and Social Affairs Correspondent

The Irish Prison Service has sought to ease fears of a backlog of sex offenders waiting to enter its tailored treatment programme following criticism from a visiting committee at one of the country's main jails.

The Visiting Committee for Arbour Hill prison - one of two jails that deal with men convicted of sexual violence - had warned in its recently published 2017 annual report of "an ongoing waiting list for prisoners to engage in the psychology services".

The committee noted that Arbour Hill "is currently the centre of excellence for the treatment and rehabilitation of sex offenders" but also said that the sudden death in 2017 of a senior psychologist mean it was "imperative" that a replacement be found as there was "an extra workload" for the remaining psychologist.

The Irish Prison Service confirmed that the senior post has been filled on an acting basis since last April and that a permanent senior psychologist has recently been appointed and will commence work shortly.

According to the prison service there are between 380 and 400 individuals convicted of sexual violence in the prison system at any one time, with approximately 300 in the Midlands prison and 100 in Arbour Hill prison. Both prisons work together to provide a National Programme of Excellence in order to reduce risk of re-offending and enhance public protection to the greatest possible extent.

The National Programme, known as the ‘Building Better Lives’ (BBL), has operated since 2009 in Arbour Hill prison and can be delivered as a group or individually, depending on the person’s needs. Typically, men have engaged in the programme within the final two years of their sentence.

Delivery of the programme is in three stages: ‘Exploring Better Lives’ (EBL), ‘Practicing Better Lives’ (PBL), and ‘Maintaining Better Lives’ (MBL). Since 2016, the EBL group has moved to the Midlands prison and individuals then transfer to Arbour Hill prison to complete the Stage 2 PBL element. The MBL is currently facilitated by the Probation Service in Arbour Hill.

According to the Prison Service: "A review of the BBL was conducted in 2018 and both elements of the programmes were revised to facilitate an increase in the number of participants engaging in interventions, to reduce risk. There are currently 11 prisoners on the waiting list to participate in the EBL in Arbour Hill. It is anticipated that all prisoners on the PBL waiting list will be offered a place on the programme in 2019."

The EBL in the Midlands Prison has around eight participants engaged on a rolling basis while the PBL stage in Arbour Hill has a similar number. The Irish Prison Service said that a number of other sex offenders, who either do not wish to engage with BBL or fail to meet the criteria for inclusion, can participate in a range of other programmes.

The Arbour Hill Visiting Committee report also noted the lack of weekend in-house medical provision for what it said was an ageing prison population in the jail. The Irish Prison Service said it was currently making arrangements for procuring the expertise required to carry out a comprehensive healthcare needs assessment of the prison population across the prison estate, including Arbour Hill Prison, with a view to determining the current and future healthcare requirements of prisoners.

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