ICPO prison visits boost self-esteem and provide a sense of hope

26 Jun, 2024 | Bishops, Church, News

The Irish Council for Prisoners Overseas (ICPO) is a charitable organisation established by the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference in 1985, which works on behalf of Irish prisoners overseas to provide information and support to those in custody and their families.

As part of the ICPO’s  important work, its staff and volunteers visit its clients who are in prisons around the world.

Orla Dick(pictured), ICPO case worker, shared her experience with Sharing Good News about recent visits abroad. Orla said, “I recently visited several individuals that we support across five different states in Australia.  I also had the opportunity to attend the LINK conference in Perth, an annual event dedicated to showcasing the collaborative efforts and networking initiatives of Irish agencies in Australia.  This event highlights how these organisations work together within their communities to provide invaluable support to the Irish diaspora and how we can assist them in that work.”

Orla continued, “we conduct prison visits to provide both practical and emotional support, fostering a deeper connection to the diaspora, which can greatly enhance the well-being of those we visit.  For incarcerated individuals, a welfare visit often serves as a crucial link to the outside world, reminding them that they are neither alone nor forgotten.  This connection can be a lifeline, offering emotional relief and a respite from the isolation and monotony of prison life.

“Our visits help reduce the stress and anxiety associated with imprisonment by offering a compassionate ear and genuine empathy.  One person I visited said, ‘Thank you for traveling such a long way to see me, Orla.  It is nice to spend time with someone who treats me like a real person.  I am so grateful to the ICPO for making me feel like my life matters.'”

Orla continued, “emotionally, these visits can be incredibly uplifting for people in prison.  They can boost self-esteem and provide a sense of hope and motivation to engage in positive behaviours and rehabilitation programmes.  Welfare visits provide individuals with the opportunity to discuss their needs and concerns, which might otherwise go unheard, leading to better support and resources being allocated to them.

“Families with a loved one in prison overseas often experience intense emotional distress.  The physical distance amplifies their worries about safety, health, and fair treatment.  Communication barriers, cultural differences, and unfamiliar legal systems heighten their sense of helplessness and frustration.  Financial burdens increase due to legal fees and travel costs for visits.  My visit with their family member can provide them with the relief of knowing someone has been able to visit, spend time with, and pass on messages of support from their loved one to home.”

“Personally, I often leave these visits with a renewed sense of purpose and a deeper commitment to advocating for better conditions and support for those we assist.  Despite the long distances, especially when traveling to Australia, the importance of these visits remains at the forefront of my mind.”

Orla concluded, “The impact of a welfare visit to a prison is profound and multifaceted.  For those in custody, it provides essential emotional and practical support, while for visitors, it offers valuable insights into the individual and informs how we provide comprehensive support. These visits underscore the importance of human connection and compassion in addressing the complex challenges of the criminal justice system.”



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