Irish Penal Reform Trust

Continued access to education for all students in prison must be prioritised – IPRT

12th April 2021

Reopening of prison schools is welcome, but we must ensure nobody is left behind in the delivery of education

Collaboration between stakeholders to allow for the reopening of prison schools on Monday 19th of April is a welcome step, however, it must be followed up with a clear plan for equal roll-out across all prisons and the return to a normal and full education schedule. This is according to the Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT), responding to an announcement from the Teachers Union of Ireland that in-person education in prisons is to recommence next week.

Restoring access to regimes is among the key points included in a new briefing from IPRT, ‘Irish Prisons and Covid-19: One Year On’, published today (Monday 12th April).

Welcoming the decision to re-open prison schools, IPRT Executive Director Fíona Ní Chinnéide stated:

“Today, April 12th, marks a day of hope with the first significant easing of restrictions for people in the community since December. The announcement that prison schools re-open next week will bring a similar sense of hope to the men and women who are engaged with education behind prison walls.

“Many of these students will have faced barriers in accessing traditional education and are now grasping the opportunity for educational development in prison. The blanket closure of all prison schools and face-to-face teaching has been a particularly significant disruption to their learning.

“Time and time again, research has shown that people who participate in education and training programmes are less likely to return to prison. It is crucial that people in prison continue to be provided with the opportunity to access in-person education, particularly in circumstances where there are very few confirmed COVID-19 cases in prison.”

While IPRT welcomes the use of technology where possible to support prison education throughout the pandemic, and recognises the immense work of prison teachers to continue prison education in a challenging environment, it is clear that remote learning is no substitute for the individualised guidance provided by in-person teaching. This is particularly the case in prison, where many people lack access to the basic digital tools necessary for effective online education.

While acknowledging the efforts of the Irish Prison Service and prison educators to re-open prison schools, IPRT remains concerned that prison schools are not opening at the same time as schools in the community. Ms. Ní Chinnéide continued:

“Access to in-person education for prisoners should continue to be provided on at least the same basis as for students in the community. The re-opening of prison schools must now be maintained for people in all prisons, on an equal basis, and efforts must be made to restore the prison education schedule to its full, pre-COVID, timetable.

“While we accept the suspension of non-essential activities for time-limited periods during a public health crisis, it is clear that, a year into the pandemic, people in prison and their families have been left behind. Opportunities for rehabilitation – the very purpose of imprisonment – have been worryingly limited over the past year. Along with the return of in-person education, we now need to see increased out-of-cell time and access to exercise, as well as the resumption of physical family visits. The Irish Prison Service should also publish its plans for the easing of restrictions in prisons.”

During the past year, people in prison have faced severely reduced contact with families and a lack of purposeful activity, including long hours spent in cells with little access to exercise and fresh air. Unsurprisingly, this has led to increased levels of anxiety and other mental health difficulties for people in prison.

IPRT is today (Monday 12th April) publishing a new briefing that reflects on the response to COVID-19 in Irish prisons over the past year, and outlines the steps that are now required to address the impact of COVID-19 on people in prison and their families.
 

ENDS

For all media enquires or to arrange interview with an IPRT spokesperson, contact Pamela: +353 (0) 86 043 3060 or communications@iprt.ie
 

NOTE TO EDITORS

  • IPRT was responding to an announcement regarding the return of in-person education for ‘vulnerable learners’ by the Teacher’s Union of Ireland (TUI), issued on behalf of the Further Education and Training (FET) Stakeholders Forum on 8th April 2021: https://www.tui.ie/news/update-from-fet-stakeholders-forum.14125.html
  • IPRT’s new briefing (Monday 12th April) details learnings from the COVID-19 response in prisons and outlines actions required now and into the future. The briefing covers issues such as: access to vaccination, mental health, quarantine conditions, access to regimes and services, family visits, and accountability. https://www.iprt.ie/site/assets/files/6901/covid-19_in_prisons_one_year_on.pdf
  • 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. www.iprt.ie

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

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