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Supervision of Offenders

Volume 491: debated on Wednesday 22 April 2009

3. What recent steps he has taken to strengthen mechanisms for the supervision of offenders following their release from prison in Northern Ireland. (269406)

This month, I have introduced electronic monitoring and extended post-custody supervision so that more offenders will be managed by the probation service on release from prison. Both these measures will strengthen the management of offenders in the community.

I welcome the Minister’s comments and the policy. Can he reassure me that the extra burdens that the policy will place on the Northern Ireland probation service will be matched by extra resources in order to implement it? Otherwise, its impact could be severely reduced.

Until very recently, the only offenders coming out of prison who received supervision in the community were the most serious offenders who had been serving life sentences. We have now extended the provision so that anyone who receives a sentence of 12 months or more will receive supervision after their release. We have been able to increase the budget of the probation service by 20 per cent. to ensure that it can fulfil its obligations and provide the necessary support. I hope that that will reassure my hon. Friend that we are putting the necessary resources in place.

Does the Minister have any information about the number of offenders being released from prison who might be tempted to associate with, and become members of, dissident groups in Northern Ireland?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, we are constantly vigilant of people coming out of prison as well as of those in the community to ensure that we have the necessary intelligence to find out who is associating with those organisations, and to bring them to justice when they commit criminal offences.

Preparing prisoners for their release from prison can be achieved more easily when we have state-of-the-art, purpose-built facilities in which to house them in the first place. When will the Minister be able to announce the beginning of the construction of the new prison at Magilligan? He and I, and others, worked hard to achieve the announcement of that new, state-of-the-art facility. When will we see the beginning of its construction?

The hon. Gentleman is a great advocate for the rebuilding of Magilligan prison. I cannot give a precise date when the building work will begin, but I can say that the detailed design work and the preparations are happening right now. I would be happy to meet him and update him on the plans at a suitable time.