§ Mr. McNamara
To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland further to the undertakings given in the 6 May letter jointly signed by the Prime Minister and the Irish Taoiseach,(a) what measures are being taken to facilitate the reintegration of prisoners into the community, (b) what related issues are being addressed and (c) what body has been tasked with responsibility for implementation of each measure. 609W
§ Mr. Ingram
The Government are committed to meeting their obligations under the Good Friday Agreement. Government policy is that prisoners should be given every assistance to enable them to play a full and active role in society, and that they should have full, though not preferential, access to the range of social support generally available to members of the public.
The Government are conscious that the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998 has resulted in the release over a relatively short period of significant numbers of long-term prisoners, many of whom will not have been able to prepare for release in the normal way. In order to meet its overall aims within these special circumstances, the Government set up a co-ordinating group to ensure that released prisoners had proper access to support services, and that services themselves were aware of and geared to cope with the likely patterns of release. Potential difficulties in both immediate and longer-term provision for prisoners have been addressed in a manner consistent with ensuring that there is no differential in provision between ex-prisoners and the general public.
Many wider reintegration issues would involve changes to current practices or laws. The Government are reluctant to make changes to existing legislation without the support of the Assembly, given the particular sensitivity of reintegration and the fact that many of the matters of concern are the responsibility of the devolved administration.
I have had meetings with Assembly party representatives to discuss reintegration issues prior to devolution. The Government are committed to working co-operatively with the devolved administration on these issues.