Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 December 2014

Travellers 'need mentoring' in jail

Travellers who find themselves in prison need to be treated in a specific way, a new report has said
Travellers who find themselves in prison need to be treated in a specific way, a new report has said

Prison chiefs should adopt specific strategies to deal with the high numbers of travellers in jail and to prevent discrimination, a report has said.

With traveller men up to 11 times more likely than other men to end up behind bars, prisoner rights experts have said they should be mentored while serving sentences.

The Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) study found that some travellers attempt to hide their ethnicity for fear of being discriminated against while others ignore offers of education and training for the same reason.

Deirdre Malone, executive director of the Trust, said the research findings were long overdue.

"One of the key recommendations to emerge from our research is for the Irish Prison Service to develop an equality policy for all minority groups in prison, including Travellers, and to put in place a dedicated strategy for Travellers to ensure that prison does not further compound the social marginalisation that is often at the root of offending behaviour," she said.

"The recent introduction of an ethnic identifier in prison is a positive development, and we hope that this report will provide an impetus for further progress, and provide a framework for preventing and addressing inequitable treatment of minority groups in prison."

The IPRT said Irish prisons should have effective ethnic monitoring and a dedicated approach to handling travellers in jail, including reintegration supports to help them step out of a cycle of exclusion and offending.

The study, carried out in late 2013, followed research which showed travellers are strongly over-represented in the prison system.

Even though they make up just 0.6% of the population, traveller men are between five and 11 times more likely to be imprisoned, while women are up to 22 times more at risk of prison.

The IPRT said travellers face offensive name calling from other inmates and some staff; risk continued feud fighting; and are more susceptible to depression.

They are often deliberately housed together on arrival in prison and following disputes in jail they are split up around the justice system.

The report also pointed to high illiteracy rates which place a barrier on access to entitlements and information in prison and also training or education.

There was evidence that some travellers will not apply for early release because of issues with reading and writing.

The IPRT called for effective ethnic monitoring in the prison system to address issues disproportionally affecting travellers.

It also said travellers should be given equal and culturally-appropriate access to education while in prison, including literacy education.

The trust said travellers should also be given more reintegration support to address stigma they may face on release.

The research, Travellers in the Irish Prison System: A qualitative study, was compiled following interviews with 10 traveller men and women on their release from prison.

Two former inmates felt they experienced prejudice among the judiciary when they were being sentenced while another complained of poor support from his solicitor.

Two reported encountering discrimination from members of the Garda.

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