The Irish Chaplaincy in Britain (ICB) launched a groundbreaking report into the experiences of Irish Travellers in the UK prison system at the Houses of Parliament, on Monday.
The report highlights the difficulties faced by Irish Travellers within the UK prison system; in particular problems around literacy and access to courses and services to prevent repeat offending.
This is the first time that any substantive research has been conducted into the Irish Traveller population in the UK prison system. The research has found that Travellers comprise around 1% of the total UK prison population. Travellers are officially recognised as an ethnic minority group in the UK, however, unlike other minority groups there is no system in place to monitor their numbers in the prison system or to assess their particular needs.
The report aims to redress some of this imbalance. It highlights, for example, how Travellers are often unable to access educational courses and other services in prison because a prisoner needs to be literate to fill out the required forms to access these services. Particular problems around resettlement were also discovered, with many travellers being refused permission to return to their homes on sites when released on licence. The report makes a number of cost-effective policy recommendations aimed at developing strategies for Traveller prisoners to aid their rehabilitation and to prevent future offending.
The report was launched by the Conservative MP, and member of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Irish in Britain, Patrick Mercer, who was one of a number of MPS and peers at the launch.
The report's author, Conn MacGabhann said: "Travellers are a group whose voices often go unheard in society, and particularly in prison. This report aims to address that and highlight the real and particular challenges faced by Travellers in prison.
ICB director, Dr Philomena Cullen, said: "With over 25 years of experience of working with Irish prisoners in the UK, the Irish Chaplaincy in Britain (ICB) became increasingly concerned about the isolation and hardships experienced by Irish prisoners who come from a specifically Irish Traveller background. It seems that Irish Traveller prisoners face difficulties pertaining to both their ethnicity as Irish, and to their culture as nomadic Travelling people, resulting in what one could perhaps describe as a double whammy of exclusion and misunderstanding.
"Our report aims to throw light on the unique challenges faced by Traveller prisoners, challenges which have yet to be adequately acknowledged by statutory agencies, let alone solved by them. We hope this report will mark a major step forward in addressing those problems, for the benefit of the Traveller community and wider society".
For more information and to read the full report, see: www.irishchaplaincy.org.uk/
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