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Travellers in Prison Initiative

Background
The Travellers in Prison Initiative (TPI) is a project which has evolved and developed during the second half of 2014. The TPI is a response to the particular needs and circumstances of Travellers within the 14 prisons within the Republic of Ireland and within the Central Mental Hospital. It is recognised that there is a disproportionate number of Travellers within Irish prisons – although Travellers only account for 0.6% of the overall population in the Republic of Ireland they account for 22% of the female prison population and 15% of the male prison population (source: Irish Prison Service). The TPI has been developed to support existing programmes, to provide more co-ordination and to set up new projects aimed at assisting Travellers in prison and at reducing the number of Travellers in Irish prisons.
The background to the TPI can be traced back to the Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) research report on ‘Travellers in the Irish Prison System’ produced in May 2014. This excellent piece of research clearly documents the challenges and difficulties being experienced by Travellers within Irish prisons. The research report formed the basis of a well-attended workshop (attended by over 50 people) which was jointly hosted by the Irish Travellers Movement (ITM) and St. Stephens Green Trust (SSGT) and which took place on 2 July 2014 in Portlaoise at the time of the ITM annual meeting. The Portlaoise workshop included presentations from the Irish Chaplaincy in Britain (who described their prison initiative) and from IPRT. There was unanimous approval at this workshop for setting up a project or initiative which would focus on the issue of Travellers in Irish prisons.
SSGT decided it would provide financial support to this initiative concerning Travellers in Irish prisons. In order to assist SSGT and other potential funders to develop and to design this initiative (the TPI) it was considered useful to establish a Working Group comprised of Traveller organisations, key statutory agencies and other interested parties. This Working Group met on three occasions and the key outcomes from these meetings, from the initial IPRT report and from the Portlaoise workshop in July 2014 are reflected in the 2015-2018 Strategic Plan for the TPI available here. In addition to setting out the main strategies, themes and operating arrangements for the TPI, it is also anticipated that the Strategic Plan will provide a context and rationale for relevant agencies and organisations to provide financial assistance to the TPI.


THE TRAVELLERS IN PRISON INITIATIVE
An interagency Steering Group has been appointed to guide the direction of the TPI including representatives from Pavee Point, National Traveller Women’s Forum, Irish Traveller Movement, Irish Prison Service, Probation Service, Irish Penal Reform Trust, Mincéirs Whiden, Exchange House, Traveller Counselling Service, and the HSE Social Inclusion Unit.
The St. Stephens Green rust, The Irish Prison Service and the Irish Probation Service fund the initiative. Grant funding has also been received from the HSE to conduct research on the specific issues for Traveller women in the criminal justice system.
The TPI has significant potential both in relation to supporting particular actions within Irish prisons and in relation to positively influencing policies, procedures and protocols which impact upon the lives of Travellers in Irish prisons and their families. The first six months of the initiative have been an exploratory process, through which introductory discussions and new undertakings have served to:
Gain an insight into some of the challenges involved in bringing about change
Identify possible actions that have the potential to address these challenges; take into account the likelihood of commitment being forthcoming from key stakeholders, as well as practical constraints that may have emerged

AN INSIGHT INTO SOME OF THE CHALLENGES
Some of the more important challenges experienced in the initial phase have related to the following key issues:
1.
Accessing and maintaining reliable information about Travellers in prison
The ethnic identifier in its current format is not producing an accurate count of the nos of Travellers in prison. Consequently, there is a gap in knowledge about the situation and needs of Travellers in prison. Ethnic date information needs to be collected through the application of a universal question on ethnicity through voluntary self-identification. Useful data which effective ethnic data collection could gather includes; the number and gender breakdown of Travellers in prison, nature of crimes committed and whether sentences match crime committed, number of Travellers under protection or lock-up, number of Traveller engaging with services – education, counselling, health, mental health, substance misuse etc., number of Traveller in employment in prisons, number of Traveller in enhanced regimes etc. The information collated needs to be disaggregated, analysed and made available in a timely manner to the relevant stakeholders. Ethnic data collection and analysis would allow for evidence based policy-making and measurement of policy outcomes for Travellers, including the monitoring of mainstream initiatives. It can identify where discrimination and racism occur and promote equal and culturally appropriate services in response.The TPI propose to work in partnership with the IPS and Pavee Point to overcome the barriers to effective data collection.
While the IPRT report provides some insight into Traveller women’s experience of prison there hasn’t been any research conducted to date on the experiences of Traveller women prior to imprisonment, their post-release experiences or of the experiences of accessing services in prison.
TPI propose to generate information about the pathways into prison for Traveller women, their experiences of prison services and post-release experience. This information will be used to inform policy and practice in Traveller organisations, community and voluntary sector and within IPS and Probation service.
2.
Difficulties in acquiring data on the numbers of Travellers accessing and benefitting from prison-based services and re-integration supports.
Anecdotal evidence indicates that there is a disproportionately low uptake of prison based services amongst Travellers in prison. Literacy issues, security and personal safety issues have emerged as very significant barriers in many cases for Travellers in prison. The problem of prisoners’ personal motivation has also arisen as an issue. Moreover, service providers don’t appear to receive specific training on delivering Traveller inclusive services. Accurate data collection mechanisms will provide useful information on Travellers access to and uptake of services in prison. The TPI also propose to conduct research with service providers (IPS, Probation and in-reach providers) to ascertain their views on Travellers uptake of services and how levels of engagement could be enhanced.
3.
Challenges associated with providing culturally appropriate family support
The TPI considers the area of family support to be a particularly important factor in improving outcomes for Travellers in prison and their families and ultimately reducing recidivism. Family support could prove to be a vital intervention at various stages in the criminal justice system.
• Pre-sentencing - Family support could be a key form of early intervention to reduce the likelihood of a family member being imprisoned in the first instance. Family support could be particularly effective in cases where the family member at risk of offending, has substance abuse/addiction and/or mental health issues.
• Family Support - Research indicates that family members i.e. partners, spouses, parents, children, brothers, sisters and extended family often experience feelings of loss, exclusion, shame, anger and the stigma of being associated with the crime. Family support is critically important in reducing the negative impact of the imprisonment for the family and in helping break the cycles of generational imprisonment.
• Prisoner support - Studies have consistently found that prisoners who maintain close contact with their family members while incarcerated have better post-release outcomes and lower recidivism rates.
There isn’t any specific research into the issues experienced by the families of Travellers in prison. There isn’t any Traveller specific resources to assist community organisation working with families of Travellers in prison. There isn’t any support groups for families of Travellers in prison. As the IPS are developing a new model of family support it is important that TPI seeks to influence the development and implementation of this model to ensure that it is Traveller inclusive. Support for families of Travellers in prison can support family links with prisoners and the reintegration of prisoners back into their families and communities post release. However, there is a dearth of resources to support organisations to provide culturally appropriate family supports. The TPI will work with Traveller organisations to develop culturally appropriate family support toolkits.
4.
Development of initiatives to support peer support and advocacy amongst Travellers in prison.
References have been made in various reports and discussions to the isolation and loneliness experienced by Traveller prisoners particularly for the disproportionately high number of Travellers in protection wings. The establishment of Traveller Peer Support Groups within prison would be an attempt to counter isolation and the negative feelings and emotions which come from spending too much time by oneself. The TPI is supporting a number of Traveller organisations to establish Traveller peer-support groups in prisons.



IDENTIFYING POSSIBILITIES FOR CHANGE
With the overall programme objective in mind, a number of possibilities have emerged. We believe that these have the potential to influence change, as well as to develop policy and practice that have the potential for sustainability. It is proposed that future efforts are focused on the following five action areas:
Building a knowledge base about Travellers in prison
Increasing and improving access to prison-based services for Travellers
Strengthening supports for families of Travellers in prison, and after prison, using a multi-agency approach
Strengthening self-identity and self-advocacy for Travellers in prison by mainstreaming a
Peer-support model
Increasing awareness and capacity through training and learning programmes to prison service and probation service staff

Consultations to date have confirmed that, in all of these five areas, there is both the recognition of the need for change, as well as a commitment from key actors to co-operate.





SSGT TPI Strategic Plan is available to read here.

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SSGT, PO Box 950, Newbridge, Co Kildare. Tel: (045) 480666. Email: info @ ssgt.ie. SSGT is a company limited by guarantee not having a share capital, registered in Dublin. Company No: 447527. Registered Office: 75 Weston Pk, Churchtown, D14. SSGT has charitable status: CHY no 10449; CRA no 20026547. Directors: Stephen Rourke; Sr Maria McGuinness; Fr Mike Drennan; Donal O'Brien; Dearbhail McDonald; Avila Kilmurray

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