Irish Penal Reform Trust

Ebulletin #105

21st May 2020

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IPRT Ebulletin #105

Dear members and supporters,

We wrote to you last month with a specific update on our COVID-19 work, but our regular programme of work is also continuing. For anyone new to our newsletters (welcome!), you can find most of those updates compiled on our website.

In this newsletter, we have updates for you on: COVID-19 and prisons, our work on COVID-19, how you can help inform a new youth justice strategy, a recent webinar on detention monitoring, an upcoming webinar we’d like you to join, and information on a new project. 

Although the IPRT team is still working remotely, we can be reached by phone or email if you need us.

Keep safe, 
Pamela Drumgoole 
Communications Officer


Irish Prisons and COVID-19

To date, there is still no confirmed prisoner case of COVID-19 in the Irish prison system. This is a testament to the early decisive action taken by the Irish Prison Service and the Department of Justice and Equality, including the safe and structured release of 500 people from prison. We welcomed these measures on KFM earlier this month.

We also recognise the dedication of all those who work in Irish prisons – officers, chaplains, healthcare staff, community-based organisations, teachers etc. Of course, the achievements in keeping Irish prisons COVID-19 free to date would not have been possible without the hard work of prisoners themselves. The role that prisoners have played in keeping prisons safe has been commended by IPS Director General Caron McCaffrey.

Nevertheless, IPRT is concerned at the longer-term impact of restrictions as we move from short-term emergency to long-term reality of living in a pandemic. We must not lose sight that self-isolating at home is not the same as isolating in a prison cell, and measures that keep everyone safe are more harshly felt in the prison environment. Along with physical health, it is key that mental health is also prioritised at this time, and that human rights are respected.

While there has been no confirmed prisoner case of COVID-19, details provided by Minister for Justice and Equality, Charles Flanagan T.D. in the Oireachtas last week give details on the numbers of prisoners in isolation and on the number of prisoners who have been tested.

We understand that this is a worrying time for people in prison, as well as their loved ones in the community. IPRT has written to everyone in prison custody, through the prison newsletter, to reassure them that our advocacy work is continuing and that we are keeping the issues affecting people in prison on the agenda. We are encouraging people in prison to continue to write to us, so that our work is informed directly by current experiences.


IPRT's ongoing work on COVID-19

IPRT is continuing to engage with all stakeholders – State, statutory, and civil society – on how to address systemic issues arising from responses to COVID-19 and on finding ways to reduce the harms caused by COVID-19 to the entire prison community. Upholding the rights of those in custody, those who work in prisons, family members, and people on release from prison remains at the forefront of our work.

COVID-19 and associated restrictions do not impact all communities equally. With this in mind, we joined ICCL and other organisations representing vulnerable communities in calling for a human rights impact assessment of COVID-19 restrictions and the publication of disaggregated data on infection rates, including in prison settings.

Based on a review of emerging international literature, we have updated key points in our proposed measures document as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve. Updates include a focus on the publication of data, as well as the need for clear information on what the practices of ‘cocooning’ ‘quarantine’ and ‘isolation’ entail in a prison setting.

After the immediate challenges of COVID-19 pass, IPRT will be working hard to maintain this reduction in the prison population in Ireland. This reduction shows what is possible. As we enter a ‘new normal’, we will need to reassess how we as a society respond to offending behaviour and rethink what it means to keep the community safe.


Draft Youth Justice Strategy

Earlier this month, IPRT welcomed the publication of a Draft Youth Justice Strategy by Minister of State David Stanton TD. Welcome proposals include: extending youth supports to young adults aged up to 24, placing a positive duty on State agencies to work together, and adaption of the Bail Supervision Scheme to better support hard-to-reach groups. These proposals closely align with previous recommendations made by IPRT.

We’ll be closely assessing the Draft Strategy with a view to making an evidence-informed submission to the Minister. We’re encouraging all of our supporters to have their voice heard on the issues that matter most to them through the Department’s online public consultation. It only takes a few minutes and could play a role in impacting progressive policy development!

P.S. IPRT’s Turnaround Youth, which makes the case for a distinct approach to young adults in the criminal justice system, turned 5 last week.


Detention monitoring during COVID-19 - what's possible?

As with many organisations, our schedule of events for this year has been adjusted due to restrictions. However, we’re trying to find creative ways to share our messages!

In late April, IPRT held its first ever webinar in association with the Zahid Mubarek Trust in the UK. ‘Human Rights & Detention in the time of COVID-19’ heard from speakers from the UN Committee against Torture (CAT), the UN Subcommittee from the Prevention of Torture (SPT), the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, and the Council of Europe Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT). We gathered some of the response on Twitter here.

This was an invite-only event for those with a role in detention monitoring, but we’ll be sure to let you know if IPRT runs any public event for you to ‘come’ to (from the comfort of your own home).


UPCOMING EVENT: Webinar at 2pm today

Speaking of events, IPRT Executive Director Fíona Ní Chinnéide will be speaking at an INCLO event later today (21 May), joining voices from ACLU (USA), HRLN (India), CELS (Argentina) and the Irish Council for Civil Liberties to discuss responses to COVID-19 in prisons around the world. Cross-jurisdictional information sharing will be key to implementing best practices and progressing reform, even in the face of new challenges. The event starts at 2pm local time in Ireland. It would be great to see some of you there! If you’d like to join in, register here

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New projects: Reducing the harm for children and families affected by imprisonment

We’re excited to share not only one, but two updates on projects in this area with you.

IPRT is embarking on a new three-year project, aiming to reduce harm for children and families affected by imprisonment, with particular focus on reducing female imprisonment. The project will comprise: research; advocacy; events; and network building. We’re very grateful to our funders, Katharine Howard Foundation and St Stephen’s Green Trust, for supporting such a timely piece of work.

To run in tandem with this project, we’re pleased to announce a new project we’ll be partnering on with Dr Fiona Donson and Dr Aisling Parkes (both UCC). This project will investigate how, if at all, children in particular are supported in the context of familial imprisonment. More on this work coming soon!


Help us to protect progress

There are very few voices ensuring that responses to COVID-19 are protecting the health and rights of all people in the prison system.

With restrictive measures being introduced to prevent the spread of COVID-19 to prisons, vital progress made in the penal system could be undermined.

We know that it’s a tough time for many people across Ireland, but we would appreciate it if you would consider supporting IPRT by becoming a member, or through a once-off donation.

If financial support isn’t possible for you right now, please consider following us and sharing our work on social media (links below), or by forwarding this newsletter to a friend or colleague.

IPRT relies on donations from charitable trusts, individual donations and membership subscriptions to cover operational costs. Our CHY number is 11091.
We have also received funding from donor-advised funds and project funds managed by the Community Foundation for Ireland and we have received project funding from the Human Rights and Equality Grants Scheme of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission.

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The Scheme to Support National Organisations is funded by the Government of Ireland through the Department of Rural and Community Development.

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

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