Irish Penal Reform Trust

INCLO: Civil society response to COVID-19 in prisons

21st May 2020

IPRT Executive Director Fíona Ní Chinnéide presented to human rights and criminal justice reform advocates around the world at an International Network of Civil Liberties Organizations (INCLO) public webinar on ‘Civil society response to COVID-19 in prisons and jails’ on 21st May 2020.

The event heard from international human rights and civil liberties experts from the USA, India, Argentina, Italy and IPRT was joined by the Irish Council of Civil Liberties (ICCL) in representing Ireland.

The webinar demonstrated that the response to COVID-19 in prisons has varied drastically around the world. Conditions and approaches pre-COVID-19 were also different, with COVID-19 often exacerbating existing issues in countries across the world. For example, the webinar heard that in Argentina and Latin America, COVID-19 has brought ongoing issues with the use of pre-trial detention to the fore. 

Due to early and decisive action, such as a reduction in the total prison population due to temporary releases and enhanced co-operation, Ireland has zero confirmed positive COVID-19 cases among prisoners (at the time of presenting). IPRT was in a relatively unique position of presenting some positive reflections on responses to COVID-19 in Ireland at the webinar.

While we strongly recognise the incredible work of the Irish Prison Service and the Department of Justice in keeping COVID 19 out of prisons, we remain concerned about the impact on the human rights of people in prisons. Current restrictions on prisoners’ rights and regimes risk becoming normalised – particularly as we move from short-term emergency towards longer-term term realities of living with COVID 19. Overall, the Irish experience shows us what is possible when there is political will for reform. This is something that IPRT looks forward to building on in future.

The full presentation delivered by IPRT – which includes key actions taken, the results and the impact on regimes – is available here.

The full recording of the webinar is available on the INCLO YouTube here. To jump to IPRT’s presentation, click here.

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

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