Irish Penal Reform Trust

Ebulletin #108

22nd December 2020

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An end-of-year message from IPRT's Executive Director

Dear members and supporters,

Yesterday was the shortest day and longest night of 2020 – a year that many will be glad to bid farewell. It is fair to say that this time last year, when we drew up our plans for the 12 months ahead, our expectations could not have been more different to what transpired!

As the year draws to a close, we reflect on everything that IPRT has achieved this year, despite the obstacles we’ve collectively faced.

At the same time, it has been a year of enormous challenge, anxiety and loss for many among us. For people in prison and their families and friends outside, these challenges have been even more difficult. The most basic rights and entitlements have been brought to the fore: life, health, family contact, even access to fresh air.

We recognise the immense achievement of the Irish Prison Service and the Department of Justice in protecting men and women in prison from Covid-19, working in collaboration with prisoners and their families. At the same time, we remain concerned about the impact of protective measures and restrictions on human rights, mental health, and access to regimes. As IPRT’s Michelle commented to me today: “Minimum standards and human rights apply at all times – that’s the point.” She is right.

We also recognise the progressive developments in 2020 that IPRT has been working towards in recent years, including:
o   a 10% reduction in the number of men and women in prison;
  broad recognition that prison health is public health;
  a commitment to cross-departmental action on mental health, addictions and imprisonment;
o   new ways to maintain contact between prison and the community, including video calls and in-cell phones;
o   a significant increase in the resourcing of the Office of the Inspector of Prisons;
o   proposals to respond differently to 18-24s in conflict with the law;
o   a wide public consultation on spent convictions; and more.
 
The report of the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) on its 2019 visit to places of detention in Ireland (published on 24th November) reminds us that, despite recent progress, there is still so much more that needs to be done. In particular, we must transform how we respond to people in our communities with multiple complex needs, including mental health difficulties, addictions, trauma and homelessness.

Looking ahead to 2021: On 26th January, IPRT will launch our fourth annual Progress in the Penal System report (PIPS 2020) and in February, we will re-launch our Prison Law Seminar Series, with a seminar focused on prison rules. We will be continuing work on projects including Families and Imprisonment, Know Your Rights, and a new project on Race & the Penal System, supported by IHREC.

Huge thanks to my IPRT team colleagues – Lorraine, Michelle, Pamela and Molly, along with our volunteers, Eloise, Doireann, Ann-marie, Tommy, Jessica and Hazel – who continued to work hard all year, juggling home, laptops, and everything in between.

Thanks to the many organisations who shared their expertise with IPRT throughout the year, including: the Travellers in Prison Initiative, Care After Prison, Cork Alliance, Bedford Row, PACE, IASIO, Merchants Quay Ireland and the Saol Project.

Thanks to our members, donors and funders who continued to support our work this year, including: Pobal, Department of Justice, Community Foundation for Ireland, Mercy Congregation, Katharine Howard Foundation, St Stephens Green Trust, and IHREC.

Finally, I would like to thank the men and women in prison and the families outside who shared their experiences and concerns throughout Covid-19. It is invaluable to our work, and we hope we have managed to make a difference for you behind the scenes. Thank you.

The (virtual) IPRT office will be closed from 12pm today (Tuesday 22 December) and will re-open at 9am Monday 4 January 2021.

On behalf of the Board and staff of IPRT, we wish all our members and friends a happy and peaceful Christmas.

Fíona Ní Chinnéide
Executive Director


SAVE THE DATE: PIPS 2020 – Progress in the year of a pandemic

We are excited to announce that we will virtually launch the fourth annual edition of Progress in the Penal System (PIPS) on Tuesday 26th January 2021 from 4.30 - 6.30pm (time TBC).

Since 2017, the PIPS project has set out a clear vision for the future of the penal system. PIPS 2020 necessarily takes a different approach to assessing progress than in previous years. COVID-19 has brought many unforeseen challenges – but also unexpected opportunities for reform.

At the centre of PIPS 2020 is the recognition that if the series of actions set out across PIPS 2017-2019 had been implemented, Ireland’s prison system would have been starting from a different place in March 2020 when the pandemic was declared.

Further details will be available online and will be disseminated to all supporters in early January, but you can mark 26th January in your calendars for now. We hope to see you there!


New team member: Legal and Public Affairs Manager

We're delighted to welcome Molly Joyce to our small but mighty team. Molly is joining us in the brand-new role of Legal and Public Affairs Manager. Molly has hit the ground running, commencing a programme of work to influence law through evidence, and to advance best practice and effective approaches through engagement with stakeholders.

This is a discrete programme of work, generously supported by the Mercy Congregation Solidarity Committee and a donor-advised funder facilitated by the Community Foundation for Ireland.


New project: Access to Rights & Justice for Migrants and Ethnic Minorities

We are thrilled that IPRT is one of 42 recipients of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission’s Human Rights and Equality Grant Scheme 2020-2021. The general theme of the scheme is empowering people (rights-holders) who face the greatest barriers to justice to access their rights. #IHRECsupported

IPRT’s project under the scheme aims to empower and promote access to rights and access to justice for migrants, foreign national prisoners, and ethnic minorities in the penal system. It will create a sound evidence base and raise awareness of inequality and human rights breaches against migrants and ethnic minorities in probation and prisons in Ireland.
We’re looking forward to kicking off work on this research and awareness-raising project in early 2021!


CPT report: Troubling reflections and some positive development

The seventh report on Ireland from the Council of Europe Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Degrading Treatment (CPT) was published in late November. This was effectively the first published inspection on a closed prison in Ireland since the report on the CPT’s previous visit, published in 2015.

While the report noted several positive developments such as the end of the imprisonment of children in adult prison and a dramatic reduction in the number of people slopping out, some serious concerns remain. Human rights issues identified in the report include overcrowding, inconsistent recording of violent incidents and out-of-cell time, incidents of excessive use of force and verbal abuse of prisoners, a failing complaints system, and the troubling treatment of prisoners with severe and enduring mental health issues – described by the CPT as one of “the most pressing issues within Irish prisons”.

You can read our response to the publication here and a list of issues raised here.


Spent convictions reform: The journey continues!

The Department of Justice public consultation on reform of spent convictions policy ended on Friday 6 November. In total, the Department received 755 survey responses and 73 written submissions.

As well as making our own evidence-led submission to the consultation, IPRT spent the month between the launch of the consultation and the deadline acting on opportunities to have the deepest impact.

We encouraged all IPRT supporters to add their voices to the consultation to signal to the Department of Justice that allowing people to move on from past offending behaviour and rebuild their lives is an issue that has wide support; we took part in an online briefing with Senator Lynn Ruane and Care After Prison on reform of the existing legislation; and we provided information to support the submissions of other organisations.

Following the deadline, we compiled some of the submissions made by several civil society organisations on our website. While the approaches and focuses of each submission varied, the golden thread running through each submission was the need for a more expansive scheme, which emphasises the capacity for change and supports rehabilitation. As soon as we hear any further about the results of the consultation, we’ll be sure to let you know.


Recent publications

While the way we work (and where we work) has changed drastically in recent months, IPRT remains as committed as ever to grasping opportunities to influence progressive reform at both a national and international level. Submissions we made in recent weeks include: In case you missed any of them at the time, here's a snippet of some of the justice-related reports what we’ve been busy responding to:

IPRT in the Media

Recent engagement across national and local media has focused in particular on mental health; inspections and oversight; the impact of COVID-19 on prisoners and their families; and addiction and drug-treatment in prison. IPRT comment was also featured in a student radio piece which was shortlisted for a Headline Media Award.


Governance: Recognition of hard work

Our sincere thanks to all of you who voted for IPRT Treasurer Kevin for Trustee of the Year at the Charity Impact Awards 2020. Kevin is a champion of penal reform and generously shares his knowledge and skills in finance and governance. There was stiff competition at the finals, and while we didn’t win, we’re already winners by having Kevin on the IPRT Board!

IPRT was also shortlisted for the 'Annual Report Award' in the Good Governance Awards 2020. We were delighted to be shortlisted in our first year entering. 

As an organisation that campaigns for full accountability in the penal system, we are over the moon to have the transparency and accountability of our work recognised in these two awards streams this year.

 


Play a part in IPRT’s work in 2021

2020 would have been a very different year for IPRT were it not for the support of people like you. We can’t thank you enough.

Together, we can work to safeguard the positive developments that have been implemented during the pandemic. We cannot accept a roll-back on these reforms in 2021.

You can support IPRT by becoming a member, or through a small once-off donation.

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IPRT relies on donations from charitable trusts, individual donations and membership subscriptions to cover operational costs. 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.

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

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