The majority of people in prison have difficulties with literacy and learning due to being early school-leavers, and have a history of unemployment. Many endure mental illness and are dependent on drugs or alcohol. A substantial number have been homeless at some stage in their lives. Our prisons function as warehouses filled with people on the periphery of and rejected by society. When viewed through this lens, we can see that people in prison are among the most marginalised and vulnerable in the country.
Society views crime as resulting from poor individual decision-making on the part of an individual, therefore the respective punishment is borne by them. The JCFJ is changing this conversation about individual actions to include a broader discussion around structural injustice in Irish society and the responsibility of the State. Most people in prison are from economically deprived communities which means that they are victims of ‘double penalisation’ due to the correlation between coming from a certain area and serving a custodial sentence. It is important to remember at all times that incarceration is rarely borne solely by the individual but also by their family or those receiving care from the person in prison.
The JCFJ provides submissions to human rights agencies and Government departments requesting input in penal policy reform. Through research reports and advocacy, the Centre is focused on a number of key issues within penal reform. Our ultimate goal is the formation of a climate of decarceration in which the number of people being imprisoned will continually decrease. For those who do serve a custodial sentence, prison should be a safe and humane environment with rehabilitative services accessible in prison and effective services on leaving prison to aid re-integration.
JCFJ will continue to advocate for the reform of penal policy and for an end to structural injustice in Irish society.
Author: Keith Adams