In the run up to Ireland's Presidential Election, which will take place on 27th October 2011, IPRT has written to all seven candidates to encourage each to engage with prisoners and penal reform issues during the campaign:
I am writing to you on behalf of the Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) to raise with you the position of prisoners in the context of the forthcoming Presidential Election. As you know, IPRT is Ireland’s leading non-governmental organisation working for the rights of prisoners and for progressive reform of penal policy based on the principle of imprisonment as a last resort. Central to our mission is that the deprivation of liberty is the punishment, and prison conditions should not be used for further punishment. We firmly believe that the goal of creating safer communities can be best achieved by shifting our focus more towards crime prevention and early intervention approaches, and by investing in rehabilitation and the reintegration of offenders.
We believe that the decision of the Oireachtas expressed through the Electoral Amendment Act 2006 to allow prisoners to vote was a highly significant recognition of the fact that prisoners in Ireland continue to enjoy their rights as citizens. We believe the extension of this basic democratic right to prisoners is a powerful statement of Ireland’s recognition of the place of prisoners in our community and our society.
At present there are over 4,200 citizens detained in our prisons, with a significant increase over recent years. Over 15,000 men and women pass through our prisons every year and a much wider constituency of family members, neighbours and friends are impacted by imprisonment. As you are acutely aware, the communities affected by imprisonment are almost universally those that are also most affected by poverty, social exclusion and the social problems associated with alcohol and illegal drugs. There are also many serious problems within our prison system, where the problems of poor prison conditions and overcrowding mean that many Irish citizens continue to live in inhuman and degrading conditions.
I am writing today to all of the candidates in the forthcoming election to ask what steps you are taking to engage with prisoners in the course of this campaign and, if it has not been possible for you to engage directly with prisoners up to this point in the campaign, I would urge you to do so over the remaining weeks. I would also ask you to consider the human rights situation in our prisons as a priority issue in the election campaign.
Executive Director, Irish Penal Reform Trust