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Irish Bishops Conference

Since 1985, the Irish Bishops’ Council for Prisoners Overseas (ICPO) has been dedicated to supporting Irish people in prison abroad and their families, providing information and support, and advocating for improved conditions and the protection of their rights.

Feedback to the ICPO from Irish prisoners overseas is that they experience extreme isolation.  Disconnection from friends and family can have a devastating effect on their wellbeing and, in particular, on their rehabilitation.  The ICPO supports these prisoners by extending the hand of non-judgemental friendship via letters.  This is a lifeline for lonely prisoners, offering a vital connection to the outside world at what is often their lowest point.

ICPO operates a popular ‘Penfriend Scheme’ that involves volunteers in Ireland corresponding on a regular basis with ICPO clients.  Many clients have commented that this scheme has helped to alleviate their loneliness.  Corresponding with prisoners is an opportunity to encourage, befriend and support people in custody overseas.  It requires time, patience and persistence.  Volunteers who write to prisoners can help restore the link that some may have lost with the outside world and bring an increased sense of worth to their lives as these letters they receive are very important to them.

Leslie Alcock (pictured), the Coordinator for the Irish Council for Prisoners Overseas, said, “In some cases, the penfriend maybe the only person corresponding with our clients, and it gives a sense of hope and support, knowing someone cares about them.  Some of our volunteers have been writing to their penfriends in prison for over 14 years.”

ICPO clients also find this scheme very useful, one client said, “Thank you for the lovely letter you sent to me and for letting me have another pen friend.  That is great as I do like to write letters out and it’s so nice to hear from people in my own country.”  Another client said, “My penfriend is a great and wonderful person and I do like to hear from her.”

The ICPO is an important pastoral initiative of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference, and interested penfriend volunteers are encouraged to email or visit the ICPO, and the website for further information is  Media queries should be directed to



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