29th November 2023
Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) welcomes the publication of the Irish Prison Service (IPS) Strategy 2023-2027 and the Irish Prison Service Drugs Strategy 2023-2026, both published today (29 November 2023). The strategies were launched by the Minister of State at the Department of Justice, James Browne, at an event today in Mountjoy Prison, which IPRT attended.
Responding to the publication of the IPS Strategy 2023-2027, IPRT Executive Director, Saoirse Brady, said:
“It is welcome to see a particular focus on investigating alternative prisoner pathways for people who do not pose a risk of serious harm and to reduce overcrowding in prisons in line with the Government’s policy Review of Policy Options for Prison and Penal Reform 2022-2024. The inclusion of further consideration of the use of temporary release and more community-based solutions more important than ever with prison overcrowding at some of its highest-ever levels.
Enhancing and extending prisoner services to accommodate for the recent growth in the number of people in prison, and to enhance healthcare, rehabilitation, education, pathways to employment, and resettlement as outlined in the Strategy, is necessary. However, broader efforts across the criminal justice system must focus on reducing the number of people sent to prison in the first place.
The high rates of people on remand in prisons are a concern. People on remand have yet to face trial and have not been convicted of a crime, but they are in the prison system often facing the same negative consequences as those who have been convicted – such as loss of their job or the loss of their accommodation. It’s particularly concerning to read about the high rate of mental illness, drug and alcohol dependency, and homelessness upon release.
The IPS plans to improve and expand its digital platforms are welcome. Recognising the significant benefits of supporting people in prison with the introduction of self-service kiosks and in-cell telephones and devices, is crucial to enhance contact with their children and families, and to improve digital literacy and skills for people in custody for when they are released. However, these enhancements should not be a replacement for in-person visits, an issue highlighted in a Noteworthy investigation today.
With children and families in mind, we are disappointed to see the action to ‘constructively engage prisoners and families’ is set for 2025 and believe this should take place sooner. We understand that there are plans to recruit a family links coordinator so we hope that they would engage with families as soon as they are settled in their new post. We welcome that for the first time, children of people in prison are recognised in government policy in the Young Ireland: National Policy Framework for Children and Young People 2023-2028 published last week, which includes an action to put in place a child-friendly visiting policy. This should happen as a matter of urgency."
In relation to the publication of the IPS Drugs Strategy 2023-2026, IPRT acknowledges that the IPS is faced with an extraordinarily difficult situation regarding the impact that drugs have on the prison estate as a whole - for the prison population, prison staff, and the families of everyone in this environment. It is commendable to see the IPS recognise the need for meaningful and wide-ranging cooperation and partnership across all criminal justice and support agencies to tackle the problem of drug use.
IPRT agrees that the three objectives set out in the draft strategy to “inform & educate, detect & reduce, support & treat”, are all crucial strands to any approach to combatting the issue of drug misuse.
Commenting on the IPS Drugs Strategy 2023-2026, IPRT Executive Director, Saoirse Brady, said:
“We fully acknowledge the significance and the complexities of the situation for the IPS in seeking to keep everyone in its custody, and its employment, safe from the harm that drugs can cause, but it is in this context that we feel the IPS should place increased emphasis on the objective of “support & treat” as the foundation on which any long-lasting success in combatting drug misuse is built.
We understand that factors that can result in drug misuse in the community, issues such as socio-economic factors, mental health difficulties, other addiction issues within the family, and low engagement with the education system, remain among the common contributory factors leading to drug use in prison. However, it is also true that prison is often the first time that an individual may have access to support and treatment to overcome their addiction and engage with other supports in doing so, such as mental health supports, the possibility of engaging with education and/or work training, and health services. Prison can represent a real and vital opportunity for recovery from drug abuse and/or addiction.”
IPRT is calling on the IPS, as part of the support and treatment objective, to consider specific harm reduction initiatives and to consider a child-friendly approach to search procedures as outlined in IPRT’s Piecing it Together 2021 report. Ms. Brady said:
“Investment in any additional security measures that are reliable, consistent, and not invasive are to be welcomed.
We believe these are measures that could be considered in the implementation of the Strategy to enhance and better achieve the objectives outlined. They could also be included in the visiting policy that will be developed as outlined in the Young Ireland: National Policy Framework for Children and Young People 2023-2028 launched earlier this week.
We would encourage an approach that prioritises harm reduction, including through the introduction of needle exchange programmes, anti-overdose measures such as providing naloxone nasal sprays on each prison landing and/or where else deemed necessary, in addition to providing training for staff and peer support prisoners in how to administer the spray.”
For all media enquiries, or to arrange an interview with Saoirse Brady, IPRT Executive Director, please contact Michelle Byrne, IPRT Communications Officer:
NOTES FOR EDITORS:
Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) | www.iprt.ie
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.
As of today, 29 November 2023, there were 4,739 in prison custody, with an occupancy rate of 105% of total capacity.
IPS strategies released today;