Travellers Equality Project

Irish Travellers are a nomadic ethnic group with their own unique identity, culture and history.

objective 1

advocate the rights of Irish Travellers in prison

objective 2

support the educational needs of Irish Travellers to improve the situation in prison

objective 3

campaign against issues affecting them such as discrimination, planning law and site provisions

objective 4

communicate our recommendations to the authorities through research based on reason

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Why our work matters

Travellers and Gypsies are known for travelling from place to place usually in mobile homes on agrarian sites, with a particular interest in nature. Unfortunately, since there are not enough sites given to them by the government, they are made to move on against their will or forced to settle in houses.

Travellers and Gypsies are often misunderstood and are therefore perhaps the most excluded and disadvantaged ethnic minority groups in Britain today. In England and Wales, 5% of prisoners are made up of Travellers and Gypsies.

While some Travellers do attend school, others may not due to traditional working roles within the community, or being deterred from school after being discriminated against by other pupils. Others are excluded after going on travels during the summer for a longer period than is accepted by the British education system. As a result, there are lower literacy levels in the community, which means Travellers in prison experience difficulties with bureaucratic procedures. Since they are also used to an outdoor lifestyle, being confined in a small cell for 23 hours a day can be detrimental to their health and wellbeing. We made a series of recommendations based on the needs we identified in our Voices Unheard report, which includes the experiences of 453 prisoners. We found that:

  • a lack of monitoring had meant failure to implement measures to ensure equality of opportunity for this group
  • nearly 60% of Traveller prisoners needed basic educational intervention
  • Travellers received racist treatment in prison for other inmates and some staff

As a result of our work, Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service has engaged more with Travellers in prison. Now many prisons hold Traveller Groups, appoint Traveller reps and hold Traveller History Month events to promote inclusion. Prisons are also now monitoring Travellers and Gypsies as a separate ethnic group and many Travellers are signing up to the Shannon Trust Turning Pages Scheme to learn how to read.

We also commissioned a research project to identify the educational needs in prison and made recommendations focused on culturally-specific and entry level literacy courses. Read the Right Type of Education: A Briefing on Education and Training Provision for Gypsy and Irish Traveller Prisoners in England and Wales for full details on our findings and recommendations.

Every year outside of prison, local governments spend millions to evict Travellers from unauthorised sites. There is a national shortfall of around 4000 legal sites reported. Just like other housing needs are addressed for settled communities, there is a clear housing need for Travellers. Evictions without alternative provision of sites just add to the further exclusion of this group. We pride ourselves on supporting the community with this through campaigning.

In the book Gypsy Romany Travellers, On Road, Dr Conn Mac Gabhann says in his foreword: “We often hear about Travellers but we so rarely hear from Travellers“. The book includes unchanged accounts from Travellers themselves and serves as a fruitful starting point into their lives. You can also see newsletters written by Travellers in prison.

We are also working on a pilot resettlement project to reduce reoffending in the community by supporting Travellers to access work and or training and accommodation. Please get in touch if you would like to volunteer or alternatively feel free to donate to this cause.

Contact us

We achieve this by

  • working closely with the Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service
  • providing information, advice and free bespoke resources for practitioners working with travellers
  • holding Traveller forums in prisons
  • providing diversity training for support groups
  • carrying out thorough research to identify the needs

Achievements we’re proud of so far

  • Facilitated Gypsy Traveller History Month in prisons across the country
  • Provided training on how to engage with Travellers to prison and probation staff
  • Established partnership with the Shannon Trust to encourage Traveller participation in Turning Pages reading programme
  • Introduction of a national newsletter for Travellers in prison – this will be ongoing
  • Early Day Motion in House of Commons signed by 18 MPs
  • Submitted response to Government’s plans for Traveller sites and campaigned against Dale Farm eviction
  • Presented research at Catholic Association for Racial Justice (CARJ) National Gathering
  • Received an invitation to speak at the World Congress of Cultural
  • We campaigned with the Traveller Movement for the Youth Justice Board to collect ethnicity data for Irish Travellers and Gypsy children in the Youth Criminal Justice System
  • Produced a report commissioned by the Thames Valley Probation Service on working with Gypsy and Traveller Offenders

How to volunteer

You can volunteer on the project in a range of ways including:

  • helping with the newsletter
  • offering a listening ear to a distressed family member of a prisoner or a prisoner themselves
  • supporting the upkeep of the database and helping with general administrative duties

Please get in touch if you would like to volunteer on our Traveller Equality Project – you would be making a huge difference.