The Minister for Justice, Helen McEntee T.D., has received Government approval to draft the Scheme of a Bill to place the Irish Prison Service (IPS) on a full statutory footing with a non-executive Board and other structures that align with best practice in the governance of State bodies.
The IPS is currently a non-statutory executive agency of the Department of Justice. It has approximately 3,500 staff and an annual budget of €400m and is responsible for the secure custody, care and rehabilitation of offenders in each of Ireland’s 12 prisons.
The planned legislation will establish the IPS as a fully-fledged State body with defined functions including providing safe and secure custody, upholding human rights, and supporting the well-being and rehabilitation of prisoners with a focus on reducing post-release recidivism.
Other statutory functions will include managing the prison estate and co-operating with other State actors in the interests of prisoner welfare and an efficient criminal justice system.
It is also intended to place the role of IPS Director General on a statutory footing with overall responsibility and accountability for managing the prison system. Oversight and support will be provided by a statutory non-executive board with expertise in penal administration, finance, corporate governance and risk management.
The Director General and the Board will be further supported by an audit committee and other expert committees as required. The Minister will continue to provide policy direction and approve overarching corporate strategy.
Welcoming the Government decision, Minister McEntee said:
“The IPS is a critical component of our justice system and carries a heavy weight of responsibility for the secure custody, care and rehabilitation of offenders. Its staff perform vital duties every hour of every day, often in very challenging circumstances, and I have seen their commitment first hand. Their exemplary management of the Covid pandemic is a recent case in point.
“I am very pleased that Government has approved my proposal to prepare legislation establishing the Irish Prison Service as a statutory State body with legal personality, defined functions and dedicated oversight structures. This will ensure that this key agency is best placed to deliver on its challenging mandate into the future and to meet the highest standards of corporate governance compliance and performance.
“The Programme for Government commits to a range of penal reform measures that require substantial modernisation of prison services and practices over the coming years. This includes an enhanced focus on rehabilitation and reducing recidivism, assisting prisoners with mental health, addiction and other personal difficulties, and upgrading the prison estate. At the same time, like other State agencies, the IPS must meet a growing and demanding variety of governance and performance obligations.
“A full statutory footing for the Prison Service and its Director General, with support from an expert non-executive board, will cement its status as a crucial criminal justice body. It will place the IPS in a stronger position to implement and embed future reform and to ensure it maintains the highest standards in its management of the prison system.”
- The Irish Prison Service (IPS) is the second largest agency in the criminal justice system, with an annual budget of €400m and approximately 3,500 staff.
- The origins of the IPS lie in a 1998 Government decision which approved its establishment on an initial administrative basis to help prepare the ground for an intended statutory Prisons Authority. However, the planned legislation was not brought forward at that time and the IPS has remained as a non-statutory but largely autonomous unit of the Department of Justice without its own legal personality or defined functions.
- In January 2021 the Minister approved the establishment of a joint Departmental/IPS working group to develop detailed proposals for putting the agency on a statutory basis with a non-executive board. The group reported back to the Minister in December 2021 and the Minister drew on its recommendations in bringing her proposals to Government.
- The proposals agreed by Government include the establishment of the IPS and its Director General on a statutory footing with defined functions, a non-executive Board and a dedicated audit committee among other provisions. This will align IPS governance and oversight with best practice as envisioned in the Code of Practice for the Governance of State Bodies.
- Primary legislation will be required to give effect to these proposals. The Department will now commence drafting the General Scheme of a Bill in consultation with relevant stakeholders.
- The planned legislation will serve a range of strategic objectives including:
- o Cementing the corporate identity of the IPS as a key pillar of the criminal justice system with defined statutory functions, objectives and dedicated oversight structures;
- o Adding stability, certainty and enhanced accountability to the IPS operating environment, with all personnel and resources brought under the overall control and responsibility of the Director General;
- o Providing, via the proposed non-executive Board and its committees, dedicated professional oversight and support to the Director General and senior management in instilling good governance, implementing institutional reforms (including on foot of recommendations from external monitoring and inspection bodies), developing and implementing corporate strategies/plans, advancing major capital projects and managing financial, strategic and reputational risks.