26th June 2020
As part of a TCD Law School project, IPRT was kindly invited by PRILA to write a guest blog on the response to COVID-19 in prisons and our work on advocating for the protection of prisoners’ rights during the pandemic. IPRT Expective Director Fíona Ní Chinnéide provides some reflections on the unique challenges that COVID-19 poses in Irish prisons.
The full blog is available here. While we recommend taking 10 minutes to read through our full responses, we’ve pulled out some snippets for you below!
Q. This has been a particularly stressful and demanding period for people living and working in prison, but also for the family members of people in prison. Can you share with us some thoughts on how COVID-19-related restrictions have impacted families, for better or worse?
A. Families are often described as the “hidden victims” of imprisonment, and the burden of having a family member in prison is significant at all times. In response to COVID-19 risks, children have not been allowed visit prisons since mid-March, and all in-person visits have been suspended since the end of March. This means that around 6,000 children in Ireland have not hugged their parent in prison in almost four months. It has been a deeply worrying time for families concerned about the health of their loved one in prison, and for people in prison feeling helpless concern for their families outside. At the same time, for some families, it has been experienced as a break from having to travel sometimes long distances at significant financial expense for what can be a short and unsatisfactory visit with their loved one. [For more read the full blog]
Q. IPRT has been active in calling on the government to take measures to reduce the prison population, both before and in response to the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some of these measures have been reflected in the government’s response including the utilisation of temporary release, the introduction of technology to support online visits, and increased phone privileges to access additional supports for some prisoners. What steps is IPRT taking to ensure the IPS continues these practices after the threat of COVID-19 has subsided?
A. If the actions and recommendations IPRT had made over many years had been implemented previously, the prison system would have been starting from a different place in March 2020 when the pandemic was declared. Prisons would have been operating within capacity, video calls would already have been available, there would have been a seamless transition to e-learning when the closure of prison schools was announced, and more. We welcome that so many positive reforms have been achieved in such a short time; however, it should not have taken a global pandemic for this to happen – the evidence was already there to support these reforms.
A key objective for IPRT this year is to capture the positive reforms that have been implemented, document how these reforms were achieved, outline and measure the longer-term benefits of the reforms to wider community and society, and then advocate, engage and raise awareness across all stakeholders – from policy-makers to legal professions, from legislators to the wider general public. [For more read the full blog]
The above quotes are small excerpts from IPRT's answers to these questions. More detailed answers, as well as answers to additional questions, are over on the PRILA site.