A small number of Travellers said they had also been subjected to “systematic discrimination”, including the dispersal of Travellers to other jails following a conflict between them and settled inmates in one jail.
The report, Travellers in the Irish Prison System: A qualitative study, said previously published figures showed Travellers were disproportionately locked up — between five and 11 times more likely than other males.
The report by the Irish Penal Reform Trust, said the rate was much higher for Traveller women — 18 to 22 times more likely than women in general.
Executive director of IPRT Deirdre Malone said, “One of the key recommendations to emerge from our research is for the Irish Prison Service to develop an equality policy for all minority groups in prison, including Travellers, and to put in place a dedicated strategy for Travellers to ensure that prison does not further compound the social marginalisation that is often at the root of offending behaviour.”
On abusive language, the report said: “Offensive name-calling from prisoners can be a common experience for Travellers in prison. The extent to which this is experienced can vary.”
The problem was worse for male prisoners and there was a tendency among them to play it down.
The report said interviewees also experienced it from prison officers. Again it qualified this claim: “There was a shared view that this did not come from all prison officers; rather, people spoke of the ‘odd, bad’ prison officer who exhibited such behaviour.”
The study found Travellers in prison also had literacy problems which presented a barrier to information and entitlements.
It said, while fights in prison were not necessarily seen as the norm, some male interviewees shared a strong awareness the risks were real. The report noted if a Traveller was involved in a row in prison, that increased the likelihood of a relative being attacked.
“In the context of prison, Travellers from different families being placed in close proximity to each other increased the likelihood of feud-related fighting.”