IPRT launched “It’s like stepping on a landmine…” – Reintegration of Prisoners in Ireland at the MACRO Community Centre in the Markets Area of Dublin North Inner City. The report highlights the strenuous efforts of so many community projects and non-statutory agencies, providing services and support to released prisoners; and the setting of MACRO seemed to reflect the admiration in the report for community projects and the work they do.
One of the speakers, Pat Conway, Director of Services for Adults at NIACRO, held up the report and claimed that he could slap the word ‘Northern’ in the title and apply it easily to the situation in Northern Ireland. This may seem obvious I suppose, but it surprised me and left me with that sinking feeling that this was most likely the case in many countries - Governments can afford to fail at supporting prisoners because the horrible truth is that few people care. If society as a whole doesn’t really give a damn about the problem, a government can afford to ignore it as they see fit.
This apathy is exactly why it was so important to hear from Joseph, a former prisoner and current student, who spoke at the launch and provided a personal reflection of leaving prison. Joseph’s description of the fear that he experienced as the sentence draws to its close sounded horrific. From the report itself, I learned that wanting to avail of the information available (woeful though it is) was considered a weakness by inmates and prison officers. So how do you cope if you have no information about how to handle release, and you feel like you can’t ask, and your dread at the prospect is rising?
There were a lot of these moments, moments in which I realised I had never previously considered the reality for a released prisoner. Lisa Cuthbert from PACE spoke about certain released prisoners, perhaps older men from rural communities, who would never return to their homes, and would live the rest of their lives in housing projects run for former prisoners. IPRT’s Agnieszka described a haphazard and chaotic administration, a system which uses temporary release as a valve to relieve pressure, a system which cannot guarantee any support on release, and a system that may not even provide the most basic information.
The provision of information in prison, the ability of prisoners to access that information which they require to equip themselves for release, seems like a basic aspiration. Realising that this information was not routinely available is shocking. Something so simple and effective, and yet so lacking, is inexcusable. This may have been the overwhelming impression left by the event; small, well-aimed changes, could deliver disproportionately beneficial results. I think beginning with the provision of information would be a good place to start.
* This week’s blog entry was prepared by Lynsey Black, one of our two current interns, who gave her perspective on encountering direct prisoner experiences of release at IPRT’s recent report launch.