Ireland takes a look at mothers in prison

By Mike Little

In Ireland there is a clear need for incarcerated mothers to maintain children and family relationships, according to a National University of Ireland report cited in a Probation Journal article.

“Being found guilty of a crime is not synonymous with being a bad parent.  Also noted, there is no good reason to equate offending behavior with bad parenting,” authors Sinead O’Malley and Carmel Devaney said in the report.

In 2014, 13,408 people were sent to prison in Ireland. Of those 19 percent were female. The number of women sent to prison continues to rise. Ireland has the fourth highest incarceration rate in Europe and the second highest release rate.

“The very nature of imprisonment is containment and loss of liberty, but this does not strip people of their basic rights,” cited the report.

In 2014, the Irish government acknowledged the need for gender-specific responses to female offenders. This resulted in debates on how non-custodial sentences should be enforced.

Two of the 14 prisons in Ireland accommodate women. The Dóchas Centre is the only facility with a baby unit. Mothers and their babies live among the prison’s general population raising concerns because some of the other women were convicted of crimes against children, the report noted.

The report questioned whether mothers’ rights are being realized in practice. It explored the needs of incarcerated mothers in Ireland with regard to family relationships and the need for a supportive practitioner role within the prison system. According to the authors, the report seeks to promote and enhance the relationship between incarcerated mothers and their children and their successful reunification after incarceration.

As outlined in the Irish constitution, the family is one of the most significant and protected institutions and is a key influence and provider of welfare.

“The loss of liberty is a sufficient punishment for those sentenced to prison for committing a crime,” the report stated.

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