Progress in the
Penal System (PIPS)

20: Community engagement & involvement

Standard 20:

Civil society access to prisons is encouraged and there are opportunities for prisoners to participate and engage in the community through structured forms of temporary release.


Reconnecting and positively identifying with community and civil society is an important aspect of reintegration.

Current context:

The Director General of the Irish Prison Service highlighted the important role civil society plays in prisons:

Benefits from taking this approach also come to prisons, prison staff, and the wider community. For example, prisoners benefit because people who see them as fellow citizens are visiting the prison voluntarily, not because it is a professional and paid duty; prison staff benefit because their environment is normalised by the presence of outside groups and they too can see that they are not cut off from the community outside; and the community benefits because knowledge about the reality of prison life and what prison are and are not will be disseminated. [479]

Indicators for Standard:

Indicators for Standard 20

Indicator S20.1:The number and scale of NGO-run programmes in prisons: While the overall number of NGO-run programmes in prison is not known, the Irish Red Cross Programme has had significant success in Irish prisons. Prisoners who become Irish Red Cross volunteers complete an intensive course on basic first aid, disease prevention and health promotion. [480] 360 prisoners across the estate have trained as healthcare and first aid volunteers, which represents 10% of the prison population. [481]

Indicator S20.2: The number of prisoners on home leave or temporary release and rates of compliance: The Minister for Justice and Equality highlighted the success of the Community Return Programme as a structured form of release with a compliance rate of 90% since 2011. However, there have been concerns raised recently about reduced access to the programme. The number of successful completions of Community Return was 352 in 2015 compared to 206 in 2017. [482]

Progressive Practice:

Book Club, England

A joint initiative between Oxfordshire County Council Library, the National Library Trust and Soha Housing Association at Huntercombe Prison in Nuffield has helped break barriers between prison and community through shared reading in prisons. [483] Twenty prisoners and ten staff from Soha are members of the Breaking Barriers Book Club.

The National Literary Trust as part of their Books Unlocked programme supports those in prison by providing free copies of Man Booker-shortlisted titles and the authors of these books often come to visit the prison as part of the programme. [484] As part of the Books Unlocked Programme, there is a National Prison Radio where a free radio service is broadcast to 80,000 cells in prisons in England and Wales. [485]

Actions required:

Action 20.1: The Irish Prison Service and the community sector should work together to increase opportunities for prisoners and civil society to participate in exchanges between communities and prisons.


IPRT Irish Penal Reform Trust


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