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19 April 2001 Edition

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Ex-prisoners groups' key role recognised

Two new reports have been launched in Belfast on the work of ex-prisoner groups and the experiences of former prisoners and their families. Both focus on North Belfast. The first report provides evidence that the former prisoners' groups are filling an important vacuum left by the state, which ignores the needs of ex-POWs, while the second report examines the issues affecting prisoners and their families that the support groups are tackling.

Republican Ex-Prisoner Groups in North Belfast, the work of Dr Pete Shirlow of the University of Ulster's Social Exclusion Unit, was launched last Thursday, 12 April, in the Ashton Centre in North Belfast.

The State They Are In: Republican Ex-Prisoners and Their Families, also researched by Dr Shirlow, is a body of research based on interviews with 100 former prisoners and 40 relatives of ex-prisoners and examines the effects of imprisonment on prisoners and their families.

The report revealed that 58% of ex-POWs were in poor or very poor health and that many families had struggled to cope with marital breakdown and the loss of a parent, child or partner through imprisonment. Around three quarters of the former prisoners surveyed had suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and had experienced difficulties in finding employment.

Nearly one in five female prisoners said they had been emotionally distressed and 86% of former prisoners and their families said they would be interested in the services provided by ex-prisoner groups.

Among the findings of the report on the four ex-prisoner groups in North Belfast - Tar Isteach, An Loiste òir, Amach Agus Isteach and the Marrowbone Ex-Prisoners Group - was an acknowledgment of the contribution that such groups and ex-POWs have made to their communities.

Speaking to An Phoblacht, Tommy Quigley, coordinator of Tar Isteach, said he welcomed the findings that ``the ex-POW groups were successful in the way they had challenged the isolation and exclusion faced by prisoners on their release.

``Ex-prisoners are working in their communities and they are providing a wide range of skills and services to the people on the ground. That includes both counselling and advice services.''

Paul O'Neill of An Loiste òir praised the ``independent and objective nature of the report'' and said the research was further proof of the importance of getting prisoners involved in the community.

``We see our role as being in the forefront in our community and achieving social development and improving people's quality of life,'' he said.

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