Supporting Change In Irish Prisons

January 27, 2016

Guest blog by DataKind Chapter Leader Sam Whelan-Curtin

In early 2015, DataKind Dublin met with Marian Quinn, CEO of the Childhood Development Initiative in Tallaght, one of Dublin’s socially disadvantaged areas. She and her organisation were embarking on a project with the Irish Penal Reform Trust and the Irish Prison Service to develop programmes to improve the relationships that incarcerated individuals have with their children and families, which has been proven by studies in the UK to drastically reduce recidivism rates and reduce the likelihood of their children from offending in the future.

To inform the programmes, they needed to learn about the situation in Irish Prisons, where there is very little information available. The challenge for these organisations was that they lacked the resources to develop the survey that would give them the data needed to develop a programme. DataKind Dublin’s Chapter Leader Tim Carnus, with Data Ambassadors Kate Byrne and Derek McHugh, helped redesign their survey to maximise the useful data and educated the organisations around delivery. From here, the prison service deployed the survey within Limerick Prison, one of the larger prisons in Ireland.

At a two-day DataDive in Dublin 2015, a team of 12 volunteer data scientists worked on analysing the resulting responses to begin to glean insights, as well as working with publicly available data to supplement and inform the project. A wide range of findings came out of the analysis, including that there is an estimated 6,000 children in Ireland affected by having a parent in prison, that those with younger children struggled most with having satisfying relationships, and that those prisoners who had other family in prison were able to more positively interact with family outside of prison. One of the key early results was the finding that providing prisoners with additional phone calls to their family members would increase satisfaction, which the governor of Limerick prison stated he would implement.

“The data produced is incredibly useful not only for service planning," said Marian Quinn, "but also for arguing policy decisions in relation to the profile and numbers of those impacted by imprisonment."

The survey is now being deployed in prisons across the country, with greater resources being provided due to the strength and rigour of the initial findings, and DataKind Dublin continues to work with the project, partnering directly with the Irish Penal Reform Trust and Irish Prison Service. Beyond the direct impact of the analysis of the survey and its influence on service design, we have also been informed that the organisations are improving their internal data systems based on their experience of working with us.


Get Involved!

Interested in working on this project? The Irish Penal Reform Trust is one of four organizations attending our upcoming DataDive February 6th. Join us! >