A FUNDING shortfall is threatening the work of Bedford Row Clare, a project designed to help prisoners to avoid reoffending.
The most recently available figures, dating to 2019, show there were 124 people in prison with Clare addresses, with many more people affected by the imprisonment of family members. While the need remains consistently high, the Bedford Row project, which has an office at Centrepoint Business Park in Ennis, has seen its staffing and funds reduced since the onset of the pandemic. “We had a full-time worker supported by part-time volunteers, as well as resources from our founders, the Bedford Row Family Project in Limerick,” outlined Frank Gunter, a retired Garda Superintendent. “We now have one part-time staff member only, working to respond to the needs of people in prison and their families. The pandemic has made their situation more complex and it’s a very challenging time for them.”
Mr Gunter, who is the chairperson of Bedford Row Clare and an experienced guidance counsellor for those leaving prison, leads a team of dedicated volunteers. Members include court practitioners and counsellors liaising with the probation services, the Gardaí, social inclusion and housing support providers. “We have had great support since 2016 when the project in Limerick branched out into Clare,” he said. “The Sisters of Mercy, the Courts Service, Clare County Council and others have helped us to cover significant costs. The pandemic has seen a lot of funding streams dry up. Our work is absolutely essential in preventing repeat offending and recidivism. We have independent research to show that for every €1 invested in Bedford Row, the State saves €5.56. If we can help someone to become productive member of society, that has a huge impact. It reduces crime and fear in the community. We really focus too on the hidden victims like children and families. If you can provide support within the family, you’re cutting off some of the temptation to fall back into crime. If we had organisations like Bedford Row in every county, that would really reduce the prison population and result in net gains for society.”
A five-year strategic plan has been drawn up in response to the situation in Clare.
“We are really appealing to corporate sponsors to back us,” said Mr Gunter. “That would make a big difference in delivering our plan. We have a fully costed document outlining the resources we need and our plan up to 2025.”
The organisation is also seeking qualified volunteers with time and energy to contribute. “We would be delighted to speak with anyone with counselling skills, particularly in the area of addiction and family care,” he said. “We have some incredible people working with us and owe them a debt of gratitude. The work that Bedford Row is doing makes a huge difference and we’re determined to continue.”
Bedford Row in Clare can be contacted on 087-6809347. The phone number for the main office in Limerick 061-315332. The project can also be contacted by email to email@example.com.