Progress in the
Penal System (PIPS)

21: Political and civic participation

Standard 21:

Prisoners are encouraged to engage with their political and civic rights.


Promoting civic and political engagement supports active citizenship and reintegration. Therefore, it is important that due consideration is given to how prisoners can connect and engage with the civic and political process. [486]

Current context:

Prisoners are a particularly disenfranchised group and the low uptake of voting in Irish prisons supports this finding. Approximately 1.45% of the prison population voted in Ireland’s 2018 Referendum on the Eighth Amendment. [487] There appears to be a gradual decline in prisoner participation over the last number of years: in 2012, 8% of prisoners voted in the Children’s Referendum. [488]

Indicators for Standard:

Indicators for Standard 21

Indicator S21.1: The number of prisoner representative groups in each prison: There are currently seven groups or councils across the prison estate. [489]

Indicator S21.2: The number of prisoners voting (%) in elections: In total 58 prisoners out of a total of 3,897 prisoners voted in Ireland’s 2018 Referendum. [490] Of these, 55 were males and three were females. [491] It is understood that no campaign groups visited prisons in the run up to the referendum. [492] A breakdown of the number of prisoners registered to vote and who voted in each prison is provided:

Prison [493] Registered to Vote Voted
Arbour Hill 6 5
Castlerea 0 0
Cloverhill 3 3
Cork 2 0
Dóchas 10 2
Limerick Not available 0
Loughan Not available 1
Midlands 8 2
Mountjoy 46 31
Portlaoise Not available 0
Shelton Abbey 2 0
Wheatfield 45 14
Total 122 58

Indicator S21.3: The number of prisoners involved in other forms of social and community engagement: The Cloverhill Visiting Committee report [494] highlights the activities carried out with the Red Cross. This included celebrating the Chinese New Year, with Chinese nationals preparing Chinese food for the occasion. Furthermore, there were a number of volunteers doing a six-month Community-Based Health First Aid course. [495] The annual report of the Visiting Committee in Cork Prison highlights a hurley/ joinery workshop, which enables prisoners to give back to the community by doing work for various local charities. [496] The workshop employs/trains up to 20 prisoners daily. [497]

In Limerick, a number of prisoners participated in the Gaisce awards. [498] In order to obtain an award, prisoners are required to partake in physical recreational activity for 26 weeks, undertake a community involvement activity, learn a personal skill for 13 weeks and engage in a team activity. [499] Open prisons such as Loughan House engaged with Bóthar, where local farmers donate their calves to Loughan House, and the calves are reared there and sent on to Africa. [500] Loughan House was also involved with Bikes for Africa, whereby bikes are refurbished and sent to Africa. [501] These are just some examples of positive forms of social and community engagement happening in our prison system.

Progressive Practice:

UserVoice, England

UserVoice is a charity led by former prisoners. [502] It aims to promote dialogue between service users and service providers. It recruits and trains representatives for prisoner councils. [503]

Prisoner Policy Network, England

The Prisoner Policy Network was established in 2018. [504] It is a network of prisoners, ex- prisoners and supporting organisations hosted by the Prison Reform Trust. [505] The network aims to ensure that the collective experiences of prisoners are part of prison policy development nationally. [506] The network presents the opportunity to create great change for the prison system. [507]

Irish Red Cross Programme

The work of the Irish Red Cross Programme in Irish prisons has been commended globally; Ireland being the first country in the world to introduce a Community-Based Health and

First Aid Programme in a prison setting. [508] 800 prisoners have been recruited and half have completed the programme and graduated. [509] The Irish Red Cross Volunteers have developed a number of projects helpful to the prison environment including a ‘Safe Zone’ in Castlerea Prison where the school is viewed as safe area and prisoners sign a form agreeing not to bully or assault another prisoner. [510] There are a number of other good examples of programmes developed by the Irish Red Cross. [511]

Actions required:

Action 21.1: Prison Education Centres should organise mock and real ‘hustings’ to encourage civic participation of prisoners.
Action 21.2: The Education and Training Boards could give consideration to increasing civic education, particularly at times of national votes (to encourage prisoner registration).
Action 21.3: Candidates should visit prisons during general elections and referendums, and encourage prisoners to use their vote.
Action 21.4: The Irish Prison Service should work towards increasing the number of prisoner representative groups across the estate.


IPRT Irish Penal Reform Trust


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