Irish Penal Reform Trust

Ebulletin #107

21st September 2020

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Dear members and supporters,

Welcome to another jam-packed chronicle of what the IPRT team has been working on in recent weeks!

In this newsletter, we have updates for you on: IPRT’s achievements over the past 12 months; results of our families of prisoners survey; the first meeting of our Children and Families Network; IPRT’s response to recent publications; and some clips of our reach on media.

While we’ve been outwardly busy making submissions, responding to ongoing developments and engaging with stakeholders, we’ve also been busy behind the scenes laying the groundwork for upcoming projects. We’ll be sharing more info on social media as soon as we can, but we’ll be sure to keep you updated in our next newsletter.

Keep safe, 
Pamela Drumgoole 
Communications Officer


IPRT AGM 2020 and Members' Event

It has been a 12-month period like no other for IPRT, with our work necessarily shifting from longer-term reform to shorter-term human rights concerns in March 2020. Despite these challenges, we have made significant progress on our objectives over the period. We were delighted to launch the IPRT Annual Review 2019 – 2020 to our membership at the (virtual) IPRT AGM on Wed 16th September.

Following the AGM, we welcomed Dr Lisa Cuthbert (CEO, PACE) to present to the IPRT membership on her qualitative research study into the lived experiences of men serving life sentences. Her presentation, “That’s my story, I can’t change it”, shared themes and quotes from her interviews with from men at different stages of the 'lifer' experience. A report on Lisa’s research is available to read here.

While most of IPRT's events are open to everyone, our AGM and members' events are open only to our membership. If you would like to become a member, you can join online, email lwhitty@iprt.ie, or call us on 01 874 1400.


Survey results: “I am worried about the lasting impact this will have”

For three weeks in late July/early August, we conducted a survey of people with a family member in prison during COVID-19 restrictions.
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It is clear from the results of the survey, and from the calls and messages we continue to receive, that the impact of COVID-19 restrictions on people with a family member in prison has been immense. IPRT would like to thank everyone who shared their experiences with us, during what has been a difficult time for them and their families. The results of this survey will help to inform our engagements with stakeholders and support both our current and future policy, campaigns, and advocacy work in this area.

The results, our analysis, quotes from participants, and our recommendations are available here. We really encourage you all to take some time to read about the experience of people with a family member in prison, in their own words.


Children and families network

On 14th August we held the first meeting of a children and families affected by imprisonment network, comprised of people with experience of imprisonment, community-based organisations, researchers and academics, and advocacy groups. The network forms part of a broader three-year project on families of prisoners, aiming to reduce harm for children and families affected by imprisonment, with a particular focus on reducing female imprisonment. This meeting marked the kick-off of the project.

We were delighted to welcome Rachel Brett (Vice President, Children of Prisoners Europe (COPE)) to speak about the role of COPE and the advantages of working as part of a network. 

You can learn more about the project, the meeting, and watch Rachel Brett's presentation here.

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COVID-19 and Irish Prisons

Since we last wrote to you, there have been confirmed cases of COVID-19 among the Irish prisoner population. While positive tests don’t detract from the success of the Irish Prison Service in keeping prisoners free from a confirmed case of COVID-19 up to now, IPRT is concerned that any significant rise in prison committals in the coming months as the courts return will impact on the Irish Prisons Service’s ability to keep the people in their custody safe from infection.

Our work on COVID-19 and related restrictions is still ongoing and we’re continuing to share our COVID-19 work on a dedicated section on our website.


Recent publications

There's certainly been no shortage of justice-related reports published and since we wrote to you last! Here's a snippet of what we’ve been responding to.

  • Inspection Framework for Prisons in Ireland
    Last week, IPRT welcomed the launch of the Inspection Framework for Prisons in Ireland, which sets out how the Officer of the Inspector of Prisons will conduct inspections of prison. However, we took the opportunity to call for increased resourcing of the Office of the Inspector of Prisons, and for laws that allow the Inspector of Prisons to publish reports directly and not through the Minister for Justice. See our response here.
     
  • Law Reform Commission Report on Suspended Sentences
    The Commission’s report examines the operation of suspended sentences in Ireland and makes proposals as to how the suspended sentence could be used more effectively. We particularly welcome the Commission’s finding that the most serious form of punishment available under Irish criminal law – the deprivation of personal liberty – should only be reserved for the most serious offending behaviour. For more, click here.
     
  • Self-harm in Irish Prisons 2018
    This is the second annual report on recorded episodes of self-harm by people in Irish Prison Service custody. The report shows an 18% year-on-year increase in the number of incidents of self-harm, with the highest rates of self-harm occurring among those aged 18-29, female prisoners, and those on remand. Read IPRT’s response here.
     
  • Prison Recidivism 2014 cohort
    Figures published by the CSO find that 55.2% of people released from prison in 2014 reoffended within 3 years. Nearly 80% of those aged under 21 when they were committed to prison reoffended within three years of being released, and 75% of people imprisoned for public order offences reoffended within three years. In response, IPRT called for: investment in health, community and social services; increased emphasis by the courts on alternatives to prison; coordination of data collection across justice agencies; and distinct approaches to offending by young adults. More on IPRT's calls here.
     
  • Ameliorating the impact of cocooning on people in custody – A briefing
    The briefing, published by the Inspector of Prisons and Maynooth University Department of Law, presents findings of an analysis of journals distributed among the cocooning population in Irish prisons in April 2020. Issues reported by the men and women in prison include: long hours locked up in cells, with reports of 30 hours with no out-of-cell time; lack of social connection, including having to communicate through prison doors; feelings of being punished for reasons of age and ill-health; and deteriorating mental and physical health. Read IPRT’s response here.

IPRT in the Media

Recent engagement across national and local media has focused in particular on slopping out; confirmed COVID-19 in the prisoner population; death in custody reports; and community-based alternatives to prison. While we’ve been repeatedly featured in digital and print media, we've included some of the short radio interviews IPRT has given in recent weeks below… some afternoon listening!

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 unwind, we are continuing to advocate that human rights implications are key to decision-making and that progressive practices are retained into the future.

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

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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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