Irish Penal Reform Trust

Ebulletin #104

17th March 2020

IPRT Ebulletin #104

March 2020

  1. Introduction
  2. IPRT: Business as usual
  3. Prisons and COVID-19: Useful resources
  4. Programme for Government 2020
  5. New IPRT report: Disability in Prisons in Ireland
  6. Add your voice - become a Friend or Member


"We cannot forget prisoners in prisons, they may be serving a sentence but they deserve no less protection under the law than others"
WHO Executive Director Dr Michael J Ryan

Dear Members and Friends,

The COVID-19 crisis is an unprecedented national public health situation for our communities and all society. This includes the 4,200 men and women currently detained in Irish prisons, the 3,300 people who work in our prisons, and the families of both prisoners and staff on the outside.

IPRT is concerned at the very serious implications that current overcrowding will have should an outbreak of COVID-19 occur in Irish prisons. We are engaging directly with all decision-makers on how a significant reduction of the prison population can be safely achieved. The announcement last week that 200 people serving sentences of less than 12 months for non-violent sentences will be released, while welcome, will only bring the population back to January 2020 levels. More needs to be done.

IPRT has consistently raised the issue of increasing prison numbers and chronic crowding in prisons, the urgent need to reduce the number of people detained in prison safely, and the importance of ensuring access to single-cell accommodation for all prisoners. The number of usable operational cells (of differing capacities) across the estate is 3,149 (April 2019). The prison population was near 4,300 the week of 12th March 2020, with over 60 people sleeping on floors in prisons. Significant further actions must be taken to achieve a safe level of occupancy in the prisons.

This is extremely urgent in the current context of COVID-19, given the high number of older people (15% of sentenced prisoners), the higher prevalence of poor health among prison populations, and the existing burden on prison healthcare services

We are also acutely aware that families outside prison will be extremely concerned about their loved ones inside prison at this time. It is important to emphasise the need for firm and swift action without causing undue panic and distress. Upwards of 6,000 children have a parent in prison in Ireland. We have asked the Irish Prison Service to prioritise a number of measures relating to communications and family contact in particular, which you can read here.

The COVID-19 crisis is an unprecedented situation. The dedication of frontline prison staff, prison medical staff and prison chaplains to providing safe custody, including at the most challenging times such as this is now, must be recognised. Many organisations in the community are also working around the clock to find alternative ways to support people on release from prison, including IASIO, PACE, Care After Prison, Cork Alliance, and many more.

IPRT supports actions taken to date towards prevention and minimising the impact of this crisis on the prison community. We know that more significant action will need to be taken in the coming days, weeks and even months. As it is an evolving situation, we will continue to update our position and information as the situation unfolds:

We welcome comments and observations on the ground to:


Fíona Ní Chinnéide
Executive Director

IPRT: Business as usual

The IPRT building is closed due to the COVID-19 crisis.

Our team is working as usual but remotely until 30th March at least. We can be contacted by email, landline and mobile. Contact details here.

Prisons and COVID-19: Useful Resources

IPRT is curating some of the more useful resources regarding COVID-19 and imprisonment on our website, updated here

Existing IPRT resources that are particularly relevant now are available on our website and include: 

Programme for Government 2020: IPRT recommendations

IPRT's work on influencing Programme for Government 2020+ continues.

In advance of the 2020 general election, IPRT put forward our 5 key recommendations for the next programme for government. We analysed 7 party manifestos as they were made public. We continue to track policy debates around crime and punishment, benchmarking these against policies and innovations demonstrated to be effective.

IPRT's priority calls on the next Programme for Government are:

  1. Pass and enact the Criminal Justice (Rehabilitative Periods) Bill 2018
  2. Establish a cross-departmental Task Force on mental health and imprisonment
  3. Invest in Community-Based Sanctions and Restorative Justice 
  4. Establish the Penal Policy Consultative Council
  5. Ratify the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention Against Torture (OPCAT)

Above all, it is critically important that the incoming government maintains current commitments to data and evidence-led policy, to protect against knee-jerk policies. It is critical that all policy and legislative proposals are grounded in evidence of what works to reduce crime, and subject to robust impact assessment before introduction.

Read more here.

Report launch: Disability in Detention

On 15th January 2020, IPRT launched a new report, 'Making Rights Real for People with Disabilities in Detention' in the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission.

Isolation in cells, limited availability of accessibility aids, lack of appropriate information on prison services, and limited opportunities to communicate with peers and family members are just some of the barriers and human rights issues facing prisoners with disabilities in the Irish prison system.

Based on the research findings, IPRT has formulated 16 recommendations for addressing barriers facing prisoners with disabilities in Ireland.

  • Download the report here
  • Read about the launch here
  • Photos from the event are available here

This project is supported by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, under the Human Rights and Equality Grants Scheme 2018

Add your voice – become a Friend or Member

IPRT relies on a network of committed supporters who share our vision for change. By becoming a Friend or Member of IPRT, you add your voice to our campaign for a more humane and equitable penal system.

To find out more about supporting our work, please visit our Friends or Membership pages.
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 two donor-advised funds and two project funds managed by the Community Foundation for Ireland, we were one of the awardees for the inaugural Human Rights and Equality Grants Scheme of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, and we received a donation from the St. Patrick’s Cathedral Community Giving & Charitable Funds in 2017 and 2018.

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

Our work is supported by

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



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