Irish Penal Reform Trust

Ebulletin #106

17th July 2020

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Dear members and supporters,

As always, things have been busy for the IPRT team in recent weeks. We’ve been working hard, but there has also been clear progress achieved as a result of our work.

In this newsletter, we have updates for you on: the new Government’s commitments on penal reform, recommencement of physical visits to prisons, a blog penned by IPRT, a recent webinar on torture prevention, important publications, some of the stories you might have missed in the media, and an opportunity to influence how the criminal justice system functions.

We’ve missed meeting many of you at seminars and launches, but we can’t thank you enough for supporting us from a distance – whether it’s by amplifying our voice on social media, sharing important updates from on the ground with us, or donating to support our work. We’re looking forward to when we can meet in person again!

We’re also excited to announce that we’re hiring a Legal and Public Affairs Manager (closing date Friday 24th July). If you want to play a key role in ensuring that the reforms IPRT works for are long-lasting, this could be the role for you!

Keep safe, 
Pamela Drumgoole 
Communications Officer

Programme for Government and a new Minister for Justice

IPRT welcomed many of the proposals in the draft Programme for Government (PfG) which was agreed between coalition parties on 15th June. Since then, the party memberships have voted to accept the PfG and the Government was formed.

It is heartening that all of the priorities IPRT campaigned on in advance of the General Election, in some form, have made it into the draft Programme for Government. Our reach was strengthened through successful collaborative working and information sharing with other civil society groups, academics, and IPRT supporters. Thank you! See all of the commitments relating to IPRT’s work on penal reform here.

During this period, we welcomed the appointment of Helen McEntee TD as Minister for Justice. With her background in mental health advocacy and previous statements on the inappropriate nature of imprisonment for people with mental health issues, we look forward to engaging with the Minister and her officials on the implementation of the PfG and further evidence-led reforms.

IPRT also congratulated Minister Roderic O’Gorman TD on his appointment to the new Cabinet position of Minister for Children, Disability, Equality and Integration. IPRT engaged with Minister O’Gorman constructively during his tenure as Green Party Justice Spokesperson and we look forward to continuing to engage him and his Department.

Recommencement of physical visits to prisons

Late last month, the Irish Prison Service published plans for the phased recommencement of physical visits to prisons from 20th July – which will be close to four months after physical visits were suspended. While IPRT welcomed the plans, we stressed that video visits should remain as an option to supplement contact even after physical visits fully resume.

 “The national roll-out of video visits has meant that there are children who, some for the first time, are now able to show their parents their bedrooms, ask for help with their homework, or see their parent’s face while they sit down to eat dinner. While plans to safely recommence physical visits must be a priority, it is crucial that video visits are retained even after physical visits are resumed fully.”25cdf0e5-4164-40b0-b28f-2de8869c1f56.png

IPRT’s full response to the plans is here(P.S. We were featured on RTÉ Nine O’Clock News on this story. The clip has expired from the RTÉ Player, but we have a snippet over on our Instagram!)

The Irish Prison Service has also published a ‘Family Information Booklet’ to inform the families of people in prison about recent and future changes to day-to-day live for their loved ones inside prisons and about what changes family members should expect themselves when contacting their loved ones or visiting prisons. Read the booklet on the Irish Prison Service website here.

'Ask an Expert': IPRT on the PRILA TCD blog

As part of a TCD Law School project on policy responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, IPRT’s Executive Director Fíona wrote a blog on the response to the pandemic in prisons, IPRT’s work, and what we suspect might be some of the challenges facing the prison system as we move away from the peak of the pandemic.

As Fíona writes, one of the key challenges for IPRT is to ensure that we don’t return to “business as usual”, and to ensure that good practices are retained. If 450 people serving short sentences could be safely released from prison at short notice, we must now ask: why was it was necessary to imprison these people in the first place? Read the blog here.

Webinar: Civil society and torture prevention

The formation of the new Government has started the clock on Ireland’s long-awaited ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture (OPCAT). The PfG commits to ratification and implementation within “18 months of the formation of the Government”. This is a pivotal step to ensuring no place of detention in Ireland is beyond the reach of comprehensive independent inspection.

But what role does civil society have to play in the prevention of torture and ill-treatment under OPCAT? We brought together international experts and voices from closer to home to examine this issue on 26th June (International Day in Support of Victims of Torture). This was an invite-only event but we have some of the insider info on our website.


Recent publications

  • IPRT: Submission on the Draft Youth Justice Strategy 2020-2026
    Adopting an evidence-informed approach, IPRT outlines key areas of youth justice that should be reinforced or inserted into the Draft Youth Justice Strategy. We put together a brief outline of our four key points – read them here.
  • Irish Prison Service: Annual Report 2019
    After progress in recent years, the Annual Report for 2019 shows a worrying increase in the overall number of people committed to prison in Ireland, as well as dramatic increase in the number of people committed for non-payment of court-ordered fine. How can we ensure prison is used only as a matter of last resort? We outline our calls here.
  • UN: Committee against Torture Publishes list of issues prior to reporting for Ireland
    In advance of Ireland’s next hearing under the UN Convention against Torture, the Committee has published a list of critical questions for the State, to help the Committee monitor if/how Ireland is upholding human rights, particularly for the most marginalised. Many of the concerns detailed in IPRT's submission earlier this year are reflected in the Committee’s questions. See our short overview here.
  • CoE: Revised European Prison Rules
    The revised Rules make changes to the standards guiding Council of Europe member states on issues such as the treatment of women prisoners, foreign nationals, restraint, and inspection and independent monitoring. Perhaps most significant are the changes the revised Rules make to the processes and protections around when solitary confinement can be administered; if at all. See a summary here.

IPRT in the media

While we made headlines with our responses to some of the stories above, IPRT was never far from a screen, paper or radio in recent weeks! Recent engagement across national and local media has focused on the ineffectiveness of short sentences, COVID-19 restrictions in prisons, and sentencing reform. Examples include:

Have your say: Criminal Justice Strategy

The Department of Justice has launched an online public consultation to inform the development of the first ever Strategy for the Criminal Justice System in Ireland. We encourage you to have your say on how the criminal justice system currently functions, and share your vision for more effective solutions. You can either complete a short online survey or make a written submission to the Department. The consultation closes on Wednesday 12th August. We’ll remind you about the closing date and share details of any public consultation events being hosted by the Department on our social media if/when we have them.

Help us to continue to protect progress

With your support, we’ve been able to tirelessly advocate for COVID-19 responses that protect the health and rights of all people in the prison system. 

As restrictions begin to unwind, we are continuing to advocate that human rights implications are key to decision-making, and that temporary restrictions are lifted as soon as they are no longer required.

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, 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.


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

July 2020
June  August

Our work is supported by

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



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