In Ireland’s 14 prisons, special-status Irish Red Cross volunteers* use the Fundamental Principles of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement to change the lives of troubled men and women, transform prison culture, reduce violence and improve the physical and psychological health of inmates.
They are part of an award winning Irish Red Cross prison programme. A unique approach to raising community health, hygiene awareness and first aid in prisons.
The seven Fundamental Principles of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement are central to the programme’s effectiveness. “Right from day one, the volunteers learn about the Fundamental Principles,” says, Graham Betts-Symonds, a former IFRC staffer who now works for the Irish Prison Service.
“The prisoners are aware of the Fundamental Principles — and not just from reading out of a book. They can tell you what it means in terms of prison life. Neutrality to them means not taking sides with one gang against another. Not to hold a grudge. It is really important. It changes the whole dynamic of prison life.”
Ireland was the first country in the world to introduce the programme through special status Irish Red Cross Volunteer Inmates in a prison setting.
“The prison health care was very reactive,” says Mr Betts-Symonds, adding that hygiene was poor and prisoners were apathetic about their health. “Prisoners went into the infirmary when they were sick. Nobody was looking at how to live a better and healthier life.”
The Irish Red Cross programme enables local communities to create systems for managing and improving their own health. In the prison setting, that meant creating community health committees, made up of prison health staff, teaching staff and volunteers. The local community in a prison is the prisoners themselves.
*The Irish Red Cross agrees to have prisoners become special status Irish Red Cross Volunteer Inmates. Should an inmate wish to continue volunteering with the Irish Red Cross upon their release, they must apply in the normal way as any member of the public and comply with all vetting requirements
The programme operates under a partnership of the Irish Red Cross, the Irish Prison Service and Education & Training Boards (ETB’s)