Prayer and spirituality best helped prisoners manage stress and anxiety during the pandemic a new survey Irish prisoners in overseas jails has revealed.
The survey was carried out by the Irish Council for Prisoners Overseas among the 1,100 Irish citizens who are imprisoned in 30 countries abroad. The organisation has supported Irish prisoners overseas and their families for over 35 years.
A significant proportion of survey respondents reported feelings of isolation and having little time outside of their cell due to 23-hour lockdowns during the pandemic, as well as delays in legal hearings, and an inability to access educational and offender behaviour courses.
Restrictions imposed during the pandemic contributed to mental health difficulties in up to 60 per cent of Irish prisoners.
Drawing from prisoners’ testimonies of their experiences between January and March 2020, the survey shows the negative impact of the pandemic as many prisoners were kept in almost constant lockdown, with no visits, and few if any activities such as access to the gym and other forms of exercise.
One of the survey’s recommendations is that prison authorities ensure that appropriate supports are in place for prisoners who are experiencing mental health difficulties and that Covid-related restrictions are lifted as soon as it is safe to do so.
The ICPO says the restrictions must not be allowed to become the “new normal” and access to video-calls should continue even when restrictions are lifted but should not be used as a replacement for physical visits from family and friends.
Prisoners themselves identified their families as their biggest concern during the pandemic.
Commenting on the survey findings, Bishop Denis Brennan, chair of the ICPO, said the survey highlighted the mental health difficulties experienced by Irish people who are in prison abroad.
“While it is widely accepted that such problems are a reality for many in prison at home, in the case of a citizen in prison in a foreign country these are exacerbated by time, distance, especially from loved ones and family, finance, isolation, language, and a myriad of potential cultural barriers.”
The retired Bishop of Ferns said he was also concerned by the relatively high number of the survey’s respondents who indicated they had no clear sense of direction for life after prison.
The survey showed that 42 per cent of prisoners didn’t know what their plans were after their sentence overseas was completed.