ICPO engages in policy and advocacy work on issues affecting Irish prisoners overseas and their families.
Transfer of Prisoners
Repatriation is an important issue for many Irish prisoners overseas who wish to serve their sentence close to their families, particularly those detained in countries where prison conditions are poor and their health may be at risk. Maintaining family ties during a period of imprisonment is essential to ensure effective reintegration and rehabilitation. Transfer to an Irish prison also provides people with an opportunity to adequately prepare for their release, allowing them to access essential supports and services in Ireland.
In March 2023, the Criminal Justice (Mutual Recognition of Custodial Sentences) Act 2023 was signed into law. This Act transposes the EU Framework Decision 2008/909/JHA, which provides for transfers of sentence (also referred to as repatriation) between EU countries. The Act also contains a number of amendments to existing legislation relating to the transfer of sentence, which will facilitate transfers to and from non-EU countries including the UK.
We are currently updating our Factsheet which will contain further information.
Although IPP sentences were abolished in 2012, this was not made retrospective and there are currently almost 3,000 people serving IPP sentences in the UK. Approximately have of all IPP prisoners currently in custody have never been released and the other half had been released but have been recalled to custody. The vast majority of IPP prisoners who have never been released have passed their tariff expiry date, in many cases by as much as 10 years or more.. Those serving IPP sentences are among the most vulnerable in prisons, with the rate of self-harm among IPP prisoners double that of prisoners serving a determinate sentence.
Prisoners serving an IPP sentence who wish to be transferred to an Irish prison face particular difficulties. Up to recently the transfer of IPP prisoners was subject to a legal challenge and the Department of Justice stated that it would not be processing any applications from IPP prisoners until this case was heard. The case, which came before the courts in 2016, sought to overturn the Minister for Justice’s decision to refuse an IPP prisoner a transfer to an Irish prison. The Court found in favour of the Minster and an appeal was lodged, however in April 2018 the appeal was dismissed. While this case does not categorically rule out the possibility of other IPP prisoners seeking a prison transfer to Ireland, it does uphold the Minister’s decision to refuse applications for repatriation from IPP prisoners on the basis that no comparable sentence exists in Irish legislation. It seems likely that this case will be relied on for future decisions involving IPP prisoners seeking repatriation to Ireland.
A Step At A Time – The Resettlement Needs of Irish People Returning From Prison Overseas highlighted the many challenges faced by Irish people returning from a prison sentence abroad. While the ICPO provides advice and support to those wishing to return to Ireland on completion of their sentence abroad, more work is required to ensure they are not further disadvantaged in relation to their reintegration as a result of being imprisoned abroad. The ICPO is developing a strategy to ensure the needs of this group are met and that they are provided with the adequate supports to assist them to successfully rebuild their lives in Ireland.
Membership in networks
ICPO also advances the needs of Irish prisoners overseas by participating in networks in Europe and the United States which are dedicated to promoting the rights and welfare of prisoners detained abroad.
CEP Expert Group on Foreign National Prisoners and Probationers
The ICPO is a full member of the CEP (Confederation of European Probation) Expert Group on Foreign National Prisoners and Probationers. This is a network of independent organisations that support European citizens imprisoned outside their country of residence and their families. The aim of the CEP Special Interest Group on Foreign Nationals is to promote the welfare and interests of European citizens who are detained outside their country of residence, in order to facilitate their social reintegration.
Detention Rights Working Group
The ICPO is a member of the Coalition of Irish Immigration Centers (CIIC) Detention Rights Working Group. This group explores detention and immigration issues in the United States and builds on the experiences of staff members from a number of Irish immigration centres, including Irish chaplains attached to the Irish Apostolate USA, who generously donate their time to visit ICPO clients who otherwise might not receive any visitors.
For further information on the Detention Rights Working Group visit http://ciic-usa.org/