Progress in the
Penal System (PIPS)

20: Community engagement & involvement (2019)

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 citizenship and reintegration. Strengthening engagement and exchange between civil society and prisons is a vital component in the rehabilitation process.[394] Prisoners should be encouraged to be continually involved in communities on the outside and should not be excluded from society as a result of imprisonment. Communities should also play a role in supporting the rehabilitation and reintegration process. This should be viewed as a two-way process, whereby members of civil society regular visit prisons and engage with prisoners, while prisoners are given opportunities to be released to engage with families and communities, including having access to external education and employment opportunities.

Current context:

Community involvement in prisons helps promote citizenship and mitigates against the demonisation of people in prison. There are a number of good examples of community involvement and exchange across the prison system. Loughan House is open to the public who can avail of trade in the garden centre, the car wash, bicycle repairs and the coffee shop. Prisoners do charity work for Sligo Hospice as well as support local tidy town committees.[395] This open prison also runs an ‘edutainment’ programme, which involves artists, musicians and drama groups, as well as work experience and training programmes.

In 2019, the Irish Red Cross prison programme was commended for reducing knife attacks and improving the mental health of prisoners, with representatives from other Red Cross societies from as far as Australia travelling to Ireland with a view to replicating and implementing similar programmes in prisons in other jurisdictions.[396] The Programme was also commended by the UK’s Justice Secretary and is now being implemented by the British Red Cross in Parc Prison.[397]

Further examples of community involvement within prisons are outlined in the progressive practice section below. There is little information available on prisoners’ engagement in communities outside prison.

Indicators for Standard:

Indicators for Standard 20

Indicator S20.1:The number of external community projects in each prison in 2019 including projects that allow for day release.

There are a number of external community projects in prisons in Ireland, including the Red Cross programme and the Alternatives to Violence project.[399] However the number of these projects throughout the prison estate needs further mapping; for example, it is not known how many projects allow for day release.


2019 saw many positive examples of community engagement within Irish prisons (see ‘Progressive Practice’ below). The table above shows the number of prisoners being granted day release, which includes numbers for the purposes of education and training. The vast majority are being released from the two open prisons, Shelton Abbey and Loughan House, and the Progression Unit of Mountjoy Prison.

Status of Standard 20: Progress

Progressive Practice:

Progression Parkrun

Progression Parkrun is a new initiative in Mountjoy’s Progression Unit. The programme was launched on 1 September 2018. In total, 75 out of 165 prisoners (just under 50%) in the Progression Unit are registered for the park run. It takes place within the internal perimeter of Mountjoy Prison. Members of the public can apply to partake in the event, which is run in conjunction with prisoners. The idea behind the initiative is that, once a participant is released from prison, he can join any ‘parkrun’ in the community.[398] The Lord Mayor of Dublin, the prison governor and prison staff have all participated in this prison-based parkrun, alongside prisoners.

Bohemian Foundation

Bohemian Foundation is an independent, not-for profit organisation that works to improve the health and wellbeing of the North Dublin community, linked with Bohemian Football Club. The Bohemian Foundation works with Mountjoy Prison. The club has conducted regular training sessions for prisoners since 2012.[400] It also provides opportunities for recently released prisoners to become involved in the local football club. Players from Bohemian Foundation help coach the sessions.

The Bohemian Foundation was awarded for their work at the 2018 Lord Mayor Awards[401]. In June 2019, the Bohemian Foundation expanded its Mountjoy Prison programme to include a six-week training programme for women in the Dóchas Centre. The overall idea behind this initiative is to bring the outside community into prison, thus breaking down barriers and any prejudices both sides may have about each other.[402]

Actions required:

Action 20.1: Temporary release enables participation in activities outside of the prison establishment, and directly contributes to resettlement. Statutory exclusions from accessing temporary release, particularly as they apply to certain drugs and firearm offences should be removed.


Irish Penal Reform Trust


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