27th April 2022
IPRT MEDIA RELEASE
New research has found that migrant, foreign national and minority ethnic groups in the penal system in Ireland experience significant challenges across the system, including isolation, discrimination, barriers to communication, as well as other cultural barriers.
“Sometimes I’m missing the words”: The rights, needs and experiences of foreign national and minority ethnic groups in the Irish penal system, being launched by the Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) on Wednesday 27 April, finds that foreign national and minority ethnic communities are overrepresented in the Irish penal system and their rights and needs are often overlooked.
Funded by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC), the research makes 18 recommendations on how to address inequalities in the penal system.
Commenting in advance of the launch, IPRT Acting Executive Director Molly Joyce stated:
“While the vast majority of foreign national and minority ethnic individuals do not come into contact with the penal system, our research indicates that these groups are disproportionately represented both in prison and on probation in Ireland.
“As well as an overrepresentation, the research identifies – in respect of certain offences – significant differences in average sentencing outcomes for foreign nationals and people of an ethnicity other than White. While this could indicate potential bias in the criminal justice system, the lack of comprehensive data collection by State agencies means we cannot be sure, nor can we more thoroughly examine these apparent disparities. This is yet another example where deficient data leads to a fundamental lack of understanding of the situation, which in turn inevitably leads to deficient responses.
“This research is the first of its kind in Ireland. While it bridges a gap in our understanding of the experiences of these groups and provides a direction for initial reforms, it represents only a starting point. Further in-depth research is needed to understand the complexity of the experiences of foreign national and minority ethnic groups within the criminal justice system.”
On any given day, approximately 1 in 7 people in prison in Ireland (15%) are from a foreign national background. However, the penal system is, at times, inflexible to their needs. A recurring theme in the research was the vacuum of communication and information available to people who do not speak English as their first language. This is well-captured by the comments of one research participant, who stated “…when I came in prison, nobody’s explained for me rules, no nothing. This was hard.” The research found that these communication barriers served to limit individuals’ access to services and compounded the isolation already faced by these groups.
On publication of the report, IPRT is making four central calls for reform:
While the majority of interviewees reported positively on their engagements with staff in the penal system, a small number of people shared details of their negative experiences. Such experiences led individuals to not ask certain staff members for help when needed, and to not make complaints in order to carry out their sentences “in peace and quiet” and for fear of “pressure” from staff.
Speaking on these specific experiences highlighted in the research, Ms Joyce continued:
“It is clear from the experiences of interviewees that positive interactions with penal staff generally outweighed negative ones. However, any form of discrimination, overt or otherwise, must be tackled as a priority. Mandatory anti-racism training, alongside robust data collection and monitoring, are ways that racism can be addressed but training cannot be a once-off exercise, it must be embedded in prison practices and cultures.”
The report was written for IPRT by a team of researchers from the Maynooth University School of Law and Criminology.
The report will be launched online on Wednesday 27 April, and will include a conversation with The Rt Hon David Lammy MP, author of an independent review into the treatment of, and outcomes for, Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic individuals in the criminal justice system in England & Wales.
For all media enquiries or to arrange an interview, contact Pamela: +353 (0) 86 043 3060 or firstname.lastname@example.org
NOTES TO EDITORS
1. “Sometimes I’m missing the words”: The rights, needs and experiences of foreign national and minority ethnic groups in the Irish penal system is a small-scale exploratory research report, which includes interviews with 24 people in prison and/or with experience of probation. 12 professionals who work in the penal system were also interviewed. [EDIT: An embargoed copy of the report was provided to media.]
2. “Sometimes I’m missing the words”: The rights, needs and experiences of foreign national and minority ethnic groups in the Irish penal system will be launched online on Wednesday 27 April at 4pm. Media welcome. Register here by 12pm on Wednesday 27 April.
3. The report was supported by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) under the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Grant Scheme
4. Data analysis –
4. Research team: The report was commissioned by the Irish Penal Reform Trust from the Maynooth University School of Law and Criminology. The research team was led by Dr. David M. Doyle and consisted of Dr. Avril Brandon, Dr. Joe Garrihy, Dr. Amina Adanan and Prof. Denis Bracken.
5. The Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) is Ireland's leading non-governmental organisation campaigning for the rights of everyone in prison and the progressive reform of Irish penal policy, with prison as a last resort. See www.iprt.ie