North Circular Road Savings Club
The North Circular Road Savings Club was established in Mountjoy Prison in October 2009. Set up as a Credit Union Savings Club for prisoners, it was the culmination of six years of preparatory work by National Traveller MABS (NTMABS), Phibsboro Credit Union, Mountjoy Prison and Dublin North City MABS.
During its work with Travellers living in the greater Dublin area, National Traveller MABS dealt continuously with ex-offenders who were unbanked, living on the streets, and had no access to savings or credit to pay for shelter. For this reason, some began to re-offend just to secure accommodation in prison. According to research completed by the Prison Reform Trust in the UK, 'the criminal justice system can increase financial exclusion, and reduce personal responsibility, creating problems with housing […] thus contributing to a greater risk of reoffending'. 1
To address this, National Traveller MABS began looking at the possibility of introducing savings options to people while still in prison
This would support the development of savings habits among participating prisoners and ensure a record of savings was available for each participant upon release.
John Lonergan (Governor of Mountjoy prison at the time) was instrumental in bringing together a committee comprising representatives from Mountjoy Prison, the Irish Prison Service, National Traveller MABS, The Irish League of Credit Unions, Dublin North City MABS and Phibsboro Credit Union. Initially, the aim was for prisoners to open individual accounts in the local Credit Union. However after several years negotiating with the Regulator for Credit Unions, it was agreed to establish instead a savings club attached to Phibsboro Credit Union. The savings club does not allow prisoners individual membership of the Credit Union. However the participating prisoners who save in the savings club account receive annual dividends according to the overall amount saved.
The successful creation of what was named The North Circular Road Savings Club within Mountjoy Prison is an important achievement. The support from Phibsboro Credit Union and Mountjoy Prison officials and administration staff, evidenced through their active promotion and monitoring of the club has seen this club develop over the pilot phase. Their positive relationship with the members has also been a contributing factor to the running of this club.
The Savings Club account was officially opened in October 2009
Members have money deducted at source by the Clerical Officer in the prison from their weekly gratuity allowance. An assigned Prison official then lodges the total contributions manually to the Credit Union.
Feedback from club members indicated the benefits of the club:
- "I want to plan for my future"
- "It's always good to save for the kids"
- "I'll keep saving 'cause I have a family too look after.....I want to have funds to fall back on"
- "It is a great idea. That someone can come and save after 3 or 4 years they will have a few quid to help them out. Maybe deposit for a flat, coming up to birthdays, Christmas and other family things like weddings..."
At the end of 2012, the savings club had 31 members saving regularly. This figure, while down from 43 active members in 2011, is still more than double the target figure of 15 for the pilot.
This fall in membership correlates significantly to a reduction in 2012 in the weekly 'gratuity' paid to prisoners by the state and the fact that when prisoners are transferred to another prison they cannot remain in the club.
Beyond the Savings Club
Membership of the club ceases once a member leaves Mountjoy Prison. Members are encouraged to continue saving upon release and are encouraged to open a local credit union account. However it is difficult to identify those that choose to continue saving and therefore the long term impact of the savings club on members who are transferred or released is hard to quantify. Generally a member’s savings are withdrawn. Should a member wish to transfer funds into a personal credit union account Phibsboro credit union will facilitate this. To date one member, on release, has successfully opened up a personal credit union account. The full amount saved, plus any small dividend that had been earned, was transferred by Phibsboro CU directly to the person’s account.
While this club, at present, is used by only a small number of prisoners within the Mountjoy Men’s prison, the benefits are clear for those involved. The members are supported in saving small amounts which will help them and their families financially upon their release. Additionally, members are developing good savings habits which will stand to them in the future.
The credit union and the prison see the positive aspects of this club – following the success of this pilot and enquiries from other sections of Mountjoy prison, it is anticipated that a similar club may be established, or the club may be extended to other sections of the Mountjoy campus. Additionally with the proper support and resources, such a club could be replicated in other prisons across Ireland.
However, consideration should also be given to allowing prisoners to access individual credit union accounts hereby allowing them full membership of the local credit union.
Following completion of the pilot phase of this prison savings club, National Traveller MABS completed an evaluation report (see the Publications section on our website). The following made up some of the recommendations from the report:
- That the possibility of allowing prisoners open individual credit union accounts is considered by the Registrar of Credit Unions
- That a replication of the Savings Club is undertaken in other prisons and with other credit unions. This would assist with the transfer of member’s money. Other prisons would also be fully aware of any processes that are in place to receive or transfer money
- That specific groups within the prison are included in the savings club e.g. lifers' - longer sentence will accumulate greater savings and support the development of a healthy relationship with saving
- That upon release, the member is recommended to their own local Credit Union. All necessary supports should be offered to the member to ensure they are enabled to continue saving.
1Time is Money – Prison Reform Trust. Available at: www.unlock.org.uk/userfiles/file/financialinclusion/timeismoney.pdf