Effective ethnic monitoring in prisons, a dedicated strategy for Travellers in the criminal justice system, and targeted reintegration supports are needed to support Traveller prisoners to escape the cycle of exclusion and offending behaviour. These are the core findings in a new report, Travellers in the Irish Prison System: A qualitative study, which was published by the Irish Penal Reform Trust today (Monday, 19th May 2014).
The report finds that Travellers are disproportionately represented in the Irish prison system, a trend found in other countries with an indigenous minority ethnic population. Underlying factors include: poverty; social and educational disadvantage; racial discrimination; literacy problems; mental health problems; and drug and alcohol dependency.
Issues facing Travellers in prison include:discrimination from other prisoners and from staff; literacy problems, which presents a barrier to information and entitlements in prison; particular emotional toll of separation from children; and mental health problems in prison. Issues facing Travellers on release from prison include estrangement and isolation from the community, and discrimination in trying to access housing.
Speaking on publication of the report, Deirdre Malone, Executive Director of IPRT said:
“This is the first time that research has been carried out on the experience of Travellers in the Irish prison system, and it is long overdue.”
“One of the key recommendations to emerge from our research is for the Irish Prison Service to develop an equality policy for all minority groups in prison, including Travellers, and to put in place a dedicated strategy for Travellers to ensure that prison does not further compound the social marginalisation that is often at the root of offending behaviour.
“The recent introduction of an ethjnic identifier in prison is a positive development, and we hope that this report will provide an impetus for further progress, and provide a framework for preventing and addressing inequitable treatment of minority groups in prison.”
On publication of the report, IPRT is making three key calls on relevant agencies:
1. To conduct effective ethnic monitoring in the prison system, analyse, and act on the results in order to address any disproportional outcomes between Travellers and other prisoners.
2. To develop a dedicated strategy for Travellers in the criminal justice system, to address how discrimination can impact Travellers’ experience of the criminal justice system, and to ensure that Travellers have equal and culturally-appropriate access to education while in prison, including literacy education.
3. To provide targeted reintegration support to Travellers on release from prison, and work with Traveller communities to address factors such as stigma surrounding drug use and offending behaviour. For those who cannot return to their family, targeted support measures should exist to enable them to access secure accommodation and employment.
‘Travellers in the Irish Prison System: A qualitative study’ was supported by the St Stephen’s Green Trust.
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NOTES FOR EDITORS:
1. A new IPRT report, Travellers in the Irish Prison System: A qualitative study, was launched on Monday 19th May, 2014 in the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin Castle, Dublin 2. Speakers were Deirdre Malone, Executive Director of IPRT; Martin Collins, Co-Director of Pavee Point Traveller and Roma Centre; and Liza Costello, author of the report. The report is available for download from: www.iprt.ie Hard copies are available from 01-8741400 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
2. Travellers in the Irish Prison System: A qualitative study is a 76-page qualitative research report, which includes interviews with 10 former prisoners (5 female, 5 male). The findings in the report are illustrated with direct quotes, which detail:
- Issues facing Travellers while they are in prison: Discrimination from other prisoners and from staff / literacy problems / separation from family / conflict in prison / mental health problems in prison / illicit drug use in prison
- Issues facing Travellers leaving prison: Estrangement and isolation / returning to a violent relationship / difficulties finding somewhere to live
- Supports and coping strategies in prison: Support from other prisoners / ritual and filling time / support from staff
- The Bigger Picture: Discrimination in daily life / marginalisation and offending behaviour / drug dependence and offending behaviour / discrimination in the criminal justice system / external pressures on Traveller culture
- Review of the Literature, Ways Forward and Recommendations
Six key recommendations included in the report are:
- Recommendation 1: Develop a strategy for Travellers in the criminal justice systemto: address discrimination; identify proactive steps to ensure that Travellers have equal and culturally appropriate access to education while in prison; and ensure equitable access to relevant supports for Travellers on leaving prison.
- Recommendation 2: Develop an equality policy for the Irish prison system, which sets out how the Irish Prison Service will ensure that all prisoners receive equal treatment and enjoy equal rights.
- Recommendation 3: Conduct effective ethnic monitoring; analyse, and publish the results on a regular basis; and addressing any unjustifiable disproportional outcomes between Travellers and other prisoners.
- Recommendation 4: Establish Traveller groups in prisons to ensure that Travellers’ needs are identified and brought to the attention of prison staff; the involvement of community-based Traveller organisations is key.
- Recommendation 5: Provide targeted reintegration support to Travellers on release from prison, and work with Traveller communities to address factors such as stigma surrounding drug use and offending behaviour.For those who cannot return to their family, targeted support measures should exist to enable them to access secure accommodation and employment.
- Recommendation 6: Further research is required to fully explore the relationship between social disadvantage, marginalisation and offending behaviour among Travellers.
3. Members of the research group which supported the study were: Seamus Taylor, Lecturer in Applied Social Studies, NUI Maynooth; Katayoun Bahramian, Co-ordinator and John Paul Collins, Community Development Worker, Pavee Point Traveller and Roma Centre; Susan Fay, Managing Solicitor of the Irish Traveller Movement Independent Law Centre; and Maria Joyce, Co-ordinator of the National Traveller Women’s Forum.
4. The Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) is Ireland's leading non-governmental organisation campaigning for the rights of everyone in prison and the progressive reform of Irish penal policy, with prison as a last resort.