Irish Penal Reform Trust

Ebulletin #110

4th August 2021

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IPRT Ebulletin #110

Dear members and supporters,

Welcome to the summer edition of the IPRT Ebulletin! In no surprise, it has been another very busy period for us here in IPRT HQ. We have plenty of updates below on issues including: our most recent report launcha new member of the IPRT teamupdates on spent convictions reform; a *new* All-Party Oireachtas Group on Penal Reformaccountability in prisons; and COVID-19.

Behind the scenes, the IPRT team is also working away on our Access to Rights and Justice project, preparing for our AGM (more details coming soon!), and planning for an upcoming project on sentencing. All this is taking place alongside submissions to different national and international processes – more updates on this to come!

As always, feel free to get in touch with any feedback or comments on our work. The best way to get real-time updates from IPRT is to join us on social media.

Best wishes,
Communications Officer

Round-up: Launch of Piecing it Together, 15 July 2021

We were delighted to virtually launch Piecing it Together: Supporting Children and Families with a Family Member in Prison in Ireland on Thursday 15 July 2021. In Piecing it Together, we re-examine key issues for children and families with a family member in prison to see how much progress has been made to support the rights of children and families since IPRT’s ground-breaking report on the issue in 2012.

We found that many of the recommendations made in 2012 have not been implemented. You can read the new report here

Ombudsman for Children, Dr. Niall Muldoon, officially launched the report, with excellent contributions from esteemed speakers and respondents.

The website for Action for Children and Families of Prisoners, which IPRT Co-Chairs, was also launched at the event. 

If you couldn’t join us for the launch, you can watch the recording on YouTube. A short animation linked with the report launch is available here.

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New team member: Senior Policy and Research Officer

We were thrilled to welcome Sarahjane McCreery to our small but mighty team at the end of May. Sarahjane will be coordinating our external research projects, including our ongoing Access to Rights and Justice project, and leading on IPRT’s policy and research functions.

While Sarahjane has joined us remotely, we had the opportunity to meet for an outdoor coffee and talk about all-things penal reform last month.

Many thanks to sincere thanks for the continued support of our donor-advised family fund and the Community Foundation for Ireland for continuing to support IPRT’s internal research capacity and evidence-based work.

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Penal Reform Updates

  1. Spent convictions
    Good news! The Criminal Justice (Rehabilitative Periods) Bill 2018 passed Final Stage in the Seanad, with Government support, at the end of June. The next step is for the Bill to be considered, examined, and debated in the Dáil.

    We echo Senator Ruane in thanking all the people with historical convictions who have shared their experiences in order to drive reform. The lived experiences of our members and supporters have been instrumental in guiding our work on this issue.

    However, Minister of State Hildegarde Naughton notes that the Government does intend on bringing forward amendments to the Bill. We will urge the Government to consider the impact of any future amendments that would limit the Bill’s current provision and narrow its scope. We will continue to present evidence to counteract any potentially regressive amendments. More on this here.

  2. High Level Task Force on mental health and addiction
    On 29 July 2021, in response to an invitation, we presented our initial observations on the Terms of Reference of the High Level Task Force to consider the mental health and addiction challenges of persons interacting with the criminal justice system. 

    IPRT suggested key issues and resources for the Task Force to consider, highlighting at all times the importance of diversion, and rights-based and trauma-informed responses. For more details on what we covered, visit our website.

  3. All-Party Oireachtas Group on Penal Reform
    In very exciting news, we have been working with Deputy Jennifer Carroll MacNeill and Deputy Ivana Bacik to establish a *brand new* All-Party Oireachtas Group on Penal Reform! The Group provides an opportunity for members of all parties, across the Dáil and Seanad, to discuss penal reform issues, engage directly with leading experts in the field and work together to create positive and lasting reform of the Irish penal system.

    The Group is co-chaired by Deputy Carroll MacNeill and Deputy Bacik. IPRT provides secretariat support for the Group, as well as expert advice.

    To date, we have held an open meeting for all TDs and Senators, at which the Chief Inspector of Prisons spoke, as well as individual meetings with the Department of Justice to discuss penal reform priorities. We’ll be gathering updates on this work here, if you want to stay in the loop!

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Accountability in prisons

Three separate sets of reports detailing conditions in Irish prisons were published in recent weeks. All of the reports are critical of the level of restrictions in place to curb the spread of COVID-19 in Irish prisons.

  • COVID-19 Thematic Inspection reports (3 August)
    These reports, published yesterday, are based on short visits by the Office of the Inspector of Prisons to Mountjoy, Cloverhill, Wheatfield and Limerick Prisons in early 2020. They are the first prison inspection reports published since the start of the pandemic almost 18 months ago.

    The reports warn that while restrictions in Irish prisons have limited the spread of COVID-19, a “sense of complacency” could be setting in across prisons, with the Inspectorate voicing concerns that increased restrictions risk becoming “the new norm”. Read our response here.

  • Mental health and COVID-19 among biggest concerns of prison chaplains (5 July)
    Chaplaincy Annual Reports for 2020 were published recently by the Irish Prison Service (IPS). We welcome that these reports were published within a reasonable timeline. While each report raised unique local issues, several common concerns were raised across many of the reports. These relate to: COVID-19 and related restrictions; the numbers and treatment of people with mental health issues being held in prison; and insufficient staffing/resourcing of the Chaplaincy Service. Read more here.

  • Prison complaints system classed as “unfit for purpose” for third successive year by Inspectorate (11 June)
    Serious deficiencies in the current prison complaints system and quarantine conditions that amount to solitary confinement, including no access to showers for 14 days in some prisons, were among the critical issues raised by the Office of the Inspector of Prisons in its Annual Report 2020. Read our response to the report on the day it was launched. (Please note that the COVID-19 Thematic Inspection reports have since been published.)

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COVID-19 updates

Recommencement of physical visits: Physical visits to prisons have been recommencing on a phased prison by prison basis. While we generally welcome this step, we are continuing to call for the publication of the new Framework for the Unwinding of Prison Restrictions, which is informed by the Government’s roadmap for reopening and is guiding the decisions made by the IPS. In the absence of publication of this Framework, we have concerns about the proportionality of some of the restrictions on visiting, including the blanket limit of one visitor aged under 18 per prisoner. More info from the IPS here.

Vaccination: After months of uncertainty for people in prison and their families, mass vaccination is underway in Irish prisons. While welcome, we are dismayed by the delays in access to vaccination for this at-risk population. We have been clear from the outset that vaccination of the prison population must be met with the unwinding of harsh restrictions, and the resumption of access to education, workshops, therapeutic programmes, family visits, community supports, and other regimes which support reintegration. More on our position here.

COVID-19 Prison Staff Survey: The Office of the Inspector of Prisons conducted a survey to assess the views of prison staff (officers, teachers etc) to COVID-19 restrictions, and to understand the impact of the measures imposed on staff and prisoners. The preliminary findings were published on the OIP website, with 90% of respondents believing that prisoner well-being was impacted by COVID-19.

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IPRT Making the News

  • The Irish Times: Prisoners denied ‘meaningful human contact’ due to Covid measures (3 August 2021)

  • Kfm: Interview following the launch of Piecing it Together, exploring issues faced by children and families of people in prison. Playback here from 01:20(16 July 2020)

  • Irish Examiner: Children with parents in prison 'the forgotten victims of crime' (15 July 2021)

  • A review of prison visiting security measures was announced by the Irish Prison Service following reports that a solicitor was told to remove her bra in order to gain entry to a prison. IPRT commented that we had sought assurances in July 2020 that changes to security screenings would respect the dignity of prisoners, staff and visitors. (7 July 2021)

  • RTÉ News: One O'Clock: Following the publication of annual CSO prison re-offending statistics, our Executive Director, Fíona, appeared on RTÉ News to discuss the solutions. The episode has expired from the RTÉ Player, but you can watch the segment back on our Instagram(25 June 2021)

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Want to join a group of like-minded people?
Become a member of IPRT

If you value the contribution IPRT has made over recent years – or during COVID-19 in particular – please show your support by becoming a member or making a donation.

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.

IPRT receives core funding from: 

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

August 2021
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Respect for rights in the penal system with prison as a last resort.



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