The number of people in prison who are parents may be higher than initially estimated, according to preliminary data from the Irish Prison Service.
Dr Fiona Donson, director of the Centre for Criminal Justice and Human Rights in the Law School of University College Cork, said the data will be published in due course, pending ethical approval.
She told a session of the 12th North-South Criminology Conference at UCC that the data is now being collated by prison governors who are asking inmates on committal whether they have children, and if so, how many.
Dr Donson and her colleague, Dr Aisling Parkes, have been looking at issues around the impact of parental incarceration on children and advantages of a child-centred approach to issues such as prison visits. She said of the preliminary data: "It seems to be showing that the figures are higher than the official estimates."
Dr Donson said that while no country has absolute data on the number of people imprisoned who have children, an EU estimate put the population at 2 million children so affected, while in Scotland it's estimated that more children are impacted by parental incarceration than parental divorce.
Dr Donson said it is likely that more children in Ireland are affected by parents being in prison than by child homelessness, which has been at critical levels in recent years.
The conference also heard from the director of the Oberstown Child Detention Campus who said huge progress has been made with young people at the facility, including taking people off campus for courses. He said challenges remain, with half of those on campus today there on remand, adding:
That creates a psychological challenge for those who do not buy into Oberstown.
The event, which continues today, also heard that special measures put in place to assist crime victims with intellectual disabilities do not go far enough in a "disjointed statutory landscape".
Dr Alan Cusack of the University of Limerick said there is a case for pre-trial cross-examination, among other measures.
The conference, entitled 'Nothing about us without us' was opened by a panel of four keynote speakers; Dr Sindy Joyce, doctoral graduate of the department of sociology at University of Limerick; cervical check campaigner Vicky Phelan; Senator Lynn Ruane; and Juliet Lyons, a former director of Prison Reform Trust in Britain.
Dr Joyce said there has been some criticism of NGOs from members of her community over issues such as an upcoming national Traveller and Roma strategy, as she said two different groups - Roma and Travellers - are being "lumped together" and there is too little consultation and too many "ticking box exercises".
Vicky Phelan said she has "always been an advocate, I just didn't know there was a word for it".
"What happened to me last year was not my first foray into taking on the medical profession," she said. "We do what we do to get answers."
She said the support group with which she is involved to assist the women affected by the CervicalCheck scandal needs that support and that the conversation around the "horrible side effects" of the disease of cervical cancer needed to be normalised, with more information given at an earlier stage to those impacted by it.