Irish Penal Reform Trust

IPRT Submission to the Joint Committee on Key Issues affecting the Traveller Community

6th August 2019

This short submission to the Joint Committee on Key Issues affecting the Traveller Community primarily focuses on mental health issues affecting Travellers in the prison system. Much of the relevant information is extracted from IPRT’s (2014) report, Travellers in the Irish Prison System: A qualitative study, which provides a more detailed account of these issues.

Since the publication of the IPRT report, a number of important developments have occurred for Travellers in the prison system, including the establishment of the Travellers in Prison Initiative (TPI). TPI was set up in 2014 as a response to the particular rights, needs and experiences of Travellers in prisons in Ireland.

There is documented evidence that Travellers are over-represented in the prison population in Ireland. In 2017, while Travellers made up 0.6% of the population in Ireland, it was estimated by the Irish Prison Service and the Probation Service that Traveller males comprise 10% of the male prison population while female Travellers account for 22% of the female prison population.

In its Annual Report 2018, the Irish Prison Service highlighted a number of relevant developments, including: ongoing research on the issues experienced by Traveller women in prison; recruit prison officer training on understanding specific issues impacting on Travellers; and a review of in-reach service provision to Travellers in prison. Furthermore, the Irish Prison Service has made progress on implementing the Public Sector Human Rights and Equality Duty with women in prison.

The submission looks at: how discrimination and stigma affect the mental health of Travellers in prison, domestic violence, accessing mental health services and adequacy of funding for services, and the use of restricted regimes. More on the context and research can be found in the full submission in 'Documents' below.

Summary of Submission Recommendations

  1.  A dedicated strategy should be developed for Travellers in the criminal justice system. It should aim to address how discrimination can impact Travellers’ experience of the criminal justice system, be it through disproportionate arrest and conviction rates, or unfair treatment within the Courts and penal system.
  2.  IPRT welcomes the introduction of an ethnic identifier by the Irish Prison Service. However ethnic monitoring alone will not result in positive changes for Travellers in prison. It must comprise the following: analysing and publishing the data on a regular basis, to monitor trends; addressing any unjustifiable disproportional outcomes between Travellers and other prisoners.
  3. The Irish Prison Service should maintain awareness-raising training on specific issues of Traveller culture in both recruit prison officer training and continuous professional development for all staff.
  4. The Irish Prison Service should work towards the full implementation of the Public Sector Equality and Human Rights Duty in order to make rights real and eliminate discrimination for Travellers in the prison system.
  5. The collation of statistical data by the Irish Prison Service is required to inform the development of long-term structured interventions tailored to the needs of different cohorts within the Traveller population.
  6. A dedicated strategy aimed at Travellers in the criminal justice system should identify proactive steps to ensure that Travellers have equal and culturally appropriate access to education while in prison, including literacy education.
  7. The Irish Prison Service should ensure that all prison staff receive training on responding to gender-based violence.

Respect for rights in the penal system with prison as a last resort.

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