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Penal Reform and Women

Gearóid Ó Loingsigh

03 October 2023

The Irish Penal Reform Trust held its AGM in August 2023 when it looked over its work for the year 2022 – 2023.  The Annual Review gives an overview of its work and what it has engaged in and the advances that have been made in the area of penal reform, some of which the IPRT rightly claims credit for.

There is an elephant in the room, or perhaps it just a hippo that identifies as an elephant, but it is there nonetheless and the IPRT does not mention it all: men in women’s prisons.  In the blurb that accompanies the report a list is given of those advances that the IPRT believes it made a significant contribution to.  And they did.  The list goes from the extension of the Inspector of Prison’s remit to include investigations into deaths in prison custody in 2012 to the decrease in the degrading practice of slopping out in prisons in 2023.(1)  No mention is made of the housing of men in the female estate, something the IPRT played a significant role in, advocating it long before Gabrielle Alejandro Gentile a.k.a Barbie Kardashian and Seán Kavanaugh a.k.a Shauna Kavanaugh became household names.  In fact, if it hadn’t been for the IPRT advocacy on the issue, these men might never have graced a cell in the female estate.  You would think they would want to stand over and stand proud of this particular advance that they proposed in Out on the Inside, a disgraceful document in which the argued against what was termed genitalia-based placement.(2)

Their Annual Review mentions meetings it held with the Governor of Limerick Prison and also its work on the issue of children and women in prison.   Housing a male child sex offender in Limerick Prison was not mentioned in the Review nor indeed that the IPRT thinks that is where he should be held and how this might conflict with some of the admirable work it has done in the area.  It is simply not mentioned.  Though they do mention it in their Progress in the Penal System (PIPS) published in May 2023.  However, they limit what they say to a banal statement.

While no policy on transgender people has been published at the time of writing, the IPS has affirmed its commitment to developing a policy that the Minister for Justice has stated will be ‘will be informed by best international practice’.  Additionally, the Transgender Equality Network Ireland (TENI) has delivered a presentation to a number of IPS staff on vocabulary, definitions, statistics, relevant legislation and supportive actions that are useful in the context of daily life.(3)
You would think that an organisation that had seen the partial realisation of its demands would be cock-a-hoop about the child abuser and ten times rapist, who cannot be named, Kardashian and Kavanaugh being housed in the female estate.  But no boasts are made about it, nor even a complaint about Kardashian being sent back to the male estate following rape threats made against female prison staff.

Nor is the issue a major concern or part of its strategic plan.(4)  Again, you would think that an organisation that had at long last seen at least three male offenders who say they are women housed in the female estate would encourage them to build upon this work.  But no.  In practice the Irish state is doing what the IPRT has advocated, though the statutory basis for it is, at best dodgy.  You would think they would call for that to be strengthened.   But the website blurb on the strategic plan states:

IPRT’s two strategic goals for 2023–2026 are:

1. We campaign for a progressive criminal justice system that upholds human rights. We do this through research, advocacy and changing attitudes.
2. We continue to develop a sustainable, well-governed, independent organisation.

IPRT has identified the following as the areas for action to bring about the long-term goals we wish to achieve:

1. Upholding human rights and respect for human dignity in Ireland’s criminal justice system for adults and young people.
2. Promoting effective alternatives to prison, where prison is only used as a measure of last resort.
3. Championing a criminal justice system that has social integration at its core.
4. Changing attitudes and challenging misconceptions about people in the criminal justice system among the public, policy officials, politicians, media and the legal community, including the judiciary.
5. Creating and sharing innovative solutions through strategic engagement, networking, and mobilising others.
6. Maintaining transparency and good governance in how we operate internally as an organisation and with members, our Board and stakeholders.
7. IPRT will be a great place to work with a high-performing team and where staff feel valued.(5)
8. IPRT will continue to be a sustainable and independent organisation.
Not exactly a high priority for them.  Though it has gone relatively quiet on the issue, the IPRT has not given up the ghost yet, it is just not openly boasting and bragging about how it managed to get three violent males into women’s prison, how it managed to get child abusers and sex offenders into the female estate.  It may be a case that Dr Frankenstein is looking at the villagers coming to burn down the castle with the monster inside it and is not standing aghast as he does in the cinema versions of the novel, but is rather hoping that they dig him out of a hole, completely of his own making.

However, they have given one last roll of the dice.  In their submission to Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) the IPRT managed to include references to what it calls transgender women in prison i.e. men in women’s prisons.  It laments that the state has no policy in place, but does not boast about the “progress” made in housing violent males and sex offenders in the female estate.  It goes on to complain that

IPRT is concerned that, while the policy is in development, the small number of transgender women in prison may be subject to inhuman treatment, with reports that these women have been (and may continue to be) subject to prolonged solitary confinement.(6)
Whilst it is true that housing such prisoners in prolonged solitary confinement is tantamount to torture, it is a situation of the IPRT’s making.  They are held separate from the actual female population because they represent a clear and overwhelming danger to female prisoners, something the IPRT has never acknowledged.  Hopefully, the fact that IPRT is not as vocal about a child sex abuser’s right to wander freely amongst the female prisoners and their children in Limerick Prison is a sign that they are slowly marking off a distance from the dogmas of the religious trans cult they signed up to.  Though I have my doubts.  Most people frequently get the monster and the doctor mixed up in the Frankenstein films (not so much those who read the novel).  The doctor is Frankenstein, not the monster.  However, I wonder whether the IPRT is both monster and doctor in this case and whether it is moving away from its defence of the indefensible.  Some clarity from them would be appreciated.  They were noticeably silent when Kardashian was transferred back to the male estate, something they were led to believe couldn’t happen.  They have yet to say anything about Shauna Kavanaugh who seriously assaulted a friend and was later arrested for beating up a woman in a women’s refuge and is now housed in the Dóchas Unit for women.  This is the policy they advocated for and are remarkably silent when it comes to boasting about the “progress” the IPRT has made on the issue. The reality of it all doesn’t look good, does it? Especially for female prisoners, one of the cohorts the IPRT claims to defend.


(1) IPRT (2023) Annual Review and Financial Statement.

(2) IPRT (2016) Out on the Inside. IPRT.

(3) IPRT (2023a) Progress in the Penal System (PIPS): A framework for penal reform (2022) p.78

(4) IPRT (2023b) Irish Penal Reform Trust Strategic Plan 2023 – 2026. IPRT.

(5) See's%20two%20strategic%20goals%20for,research%2C%20advocacy%20and%20changing%20attitudes.

(6) IPRT (2023b) Submission by the Irish Penal Reform Trust to the 88th Pre-Sessional Working Group of CEDAW (30 October – 3 November 2023) p.9

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