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;
o broad recognition that prison health is public health;
o 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