News Archive 2013

Irish Council for Prisoners Overseas information for media

Irish Council for Prisoners Overseas information for media

In response to media queries over the last number of days concerning the imprisonment of Irish citizens abroad, the Irish Council for Prisoners Overseas (ICPO) wishes to publish the following updated information and statistics:

Background

The Irish Council for Prisoners Overseas (ICPO) is a charity which was established in 1985 by the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference as a pastoral response to serious concerns regarding the number of Irish men and women in UK prisons.  Ms Joanna Joyce is the Coordinator of the ICPO Maynooth office.   The ICPO operates a strict confidentiality arrangement with every person who contacts our office seeking support.  The ICPO works for all Irish prisoners wherever they are: it makes no distinction in terms of religious faith, the nature of the prison conviction, or of a prisoner’s status.  The objectives of the ICPO are to:

  • identify and respond to the needs of Irish prisoners abroad, and their families;
  • research and provide relevant information to prisoners on issues such as deportation, repatriation and transfer;
  • focus public attention on issues affecting Irish prisoners (ill-treatment, racist abuse, etc);
  • engage in practical work in aid of justice and human rights for Irish migrants, refugees and prisoners at an international level;
  • visit Irish prisoners abroad when possible both in the UK and elsewhere.

ICPO clients require support in relation to a range of issues, including repatriation, deportation, health and legal matters, discrimination, ill-treatment and access to post release support and accommodation.  In addition to providing advice and support on these issues, the ICPO also administers a hardship fund which provides direct, effective and meaningful support.  This fund modestly assists clients who are unable to access basic necessities, such as food, water, clothes and medical treatment.  ICPO funding sources include the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference, the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul and the Department of Foreign Affairs in Dublin.

The Irish Council for Prisoners Overseas has 1,054 open cases, i.e. prisoners who are currently receiving our assistance.  However, the number of Irish citizens imprisoned overseas may be higher. There are 976 ICPO clients who are in prison in Britain at this time.  In addition the ICPO has a significant number of clients spread throughout Europe and the US. ICPO also assists prisoners in South and Central America, Australia and Africa. Please see below a data table for the four years 2010 to 2013.

Irish people are imprisoned abroad on a wide range of offences.  In Britain and the United States the reasons for imprisonment vary greatly.  In South and Central America there are a higher proportion of drugs-related offences.  Over the last few years, there has been an increase in the number of young people coming to the attention of the ICPO from Australia. This seems to correlate with the recent increase of Irish people living, travelling and working in this country.

Irish prisoners overseas face significant difficulties, including discrimination, language barriers, and dealing with an unfamiliar legal system.  In some countries prison conditions are a major cause of concern and prisoners experience extreme hardship, with limited access to food, water and medical treatment.  Prison overcrowding is a serious problem in some countries.

ICPO services to clients

Many prisoners overseas experience extreme isolation. The ICPO operates a popular ‘Pen Friend Scheme’ which involves over eighty letter-writing volunteers based in Ireland who correspond on a regular basis with ICPO clients abroad.

The ICPO also publishes a newsletter, ICPO News, twice yearly and also distibutes a Christmas and Saint Patrick’s Day ‘mailout’ to clients.  For some prisoners this may be the only communication that they have with the outside world.  The ICPO feedback is that clients greatly appreciate this communications link with home.

Families of ICPO clients

An essential part of our work is providing information, support and advice to the families of prisoners overseas.  It can be a very frightening and traumatic experience having a loved one imprisoned in a foreign country.  Many families find it helpful to discuss their worries and fears with someone outside of the situation so one of the most important roles of the ICPO is to listen to families and to provide reassurance.

Prison visitation

A key aspect of the work of the ICPO is the provision of visits to prisoners overseas.  The ICPO London office engages in an extensive prison visiting programme in Britain while a caseworker in the Maynooth office visits a number of clients in the United States and Europe each year.  While it can be challenging to find prison visitors outside of Britain, through links and with the support of lay and religious organisations, many ICPO clients are able to receive visitors.

Prison Release

Irish prisoners overseas are at a disadvantage as they don’t have the same opportunities to prepare for release as people imprisoned in Ireland.  The ICPO provides Irish prisoners with advice and support in advance of their release and assists them in accessing the supports that they will require upon their return to Ireland.

Miscarriages of Justice

In the 1980s the ICPO was actively involved in highlighting miscarriages of justice in the UK, including the cases of the Birmingham Six and the Guildford Four.  The ICPO strongly believes that every person is entitled to due process and to have their human rights protected.  Indeed, the organisation was established by the Irish Catholic Bishops in response to serious concerns regarding the number of Irish women and men in UK prisons.  These deeply held concerns related to their trials and subsequent imprisonment.

The ICPO London office sits on the steering group of Progressing Prisoners Maintaining Innocence (PPMI) which is an influential body of prominent academics, legal experts, campaigners and religious figures who seek to assist those prisoners who have served many years in prison because they continue to maintain their innocence.  ICPO also refers clients to Fair Trials International where appropriate.


Numbers of clients on the ICPO database in Maynooth, by region 2010 – 2013

 

 

 

2010

 

2011

 

2012

 

2013

England & Wales

387

637

557

*968

Scotland

1

1

2

8

North America

27

32

35

41

South & Central America

8

5

9

7

Europe

21

23

20

20

Australia

4

4

5

4

Africa

2

2

2

3

Asia

3

3

2

3

*Since 2013 the client databases of the ICPO Maynooth office and the ICPO office based in the Irish Chaplaincy in Camden, London, have been consolidated.  It should be noted that this combined figure does not indicate the totality of Irish prisoners detained in this region.

ENDS

For media contact: Catholic Communications Office, Maynooth, Martin Long 00353 (0) 86 172 7678

 

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