Analysis of Strategic Review of Penal Policy, 2014: Irish Policy Review Glosses Over Prison Problems

In 2014, the Department of Justice and Equality published a Strategic Review of Penal Policy. While finding some merit in that report by the Strategic Review Group, this critique identifies a number of very serious shortcomings in it. The article was written shortly after the publication of the Strategic Review, but the author would contend that all the problems in the prison system identified here remain to be properly tackled nearly ten years later, and many of these problems – such as the size of the prison population, prison conditions and the neglect of young adult men – have worsened greatly. Notably, while the All-Party Oireachtas Committee on Penal Reform, which reported in 2013, proposed a reduction of one third in the prison population over a period of ten years – which would have brought the population to 2,850 by 2023 – today (29/02/2024), the number in prison stands at 4,883 – over 2,000 more people in prison than the All Party Justice Committee envisaged!

Resisting the New Punitiveness

‘Resisting the New Punitiveness’ is a chapter from Global Perspectives on People, Process, and Practice in Criminal Justice, a book published in 2021 in the USA by IGI Global (Advances in Criminology Series) and edited by Liam Leonard.

This chapter builds on PhD research into the penal policies of Nordic countries and in particular Denmark, Finland, and Norway. Essentially, the investigation asked whether the increase in punitiveness in relation to prison systems that is presumed to occur under the ‘culture of control’ of late modernity can be found in these countries. The scale of imprisonment, the ‘depth’ of imprisonment, and the perception of the person imprisoned were all examined. The prison systems were investigated through analysis of documentation and recorded interviews with key personnel, supplemented by visits to a representative range of prisons. While there have at times been some signs of ‘new punitiveness’, especially in Denmark and Norway, in general it can be said that none of the Nordic countries have followed the path predicted by David Garland. Ireland, however, made its penal system more punitive in recent decades, prioritising ‘control’ over ‘care’ and providing support now ‘for the few rather than the many’.

Click here for full chapter (PDF)

What’s the Difference between Ireland and Iceland? One Letter and a Decent Prison System …*

This paper identifies aspects of the prison system in Iceland that offer
positive models for Ireland. Although Iceland experienced a similar financial crash to Ireland, Iceland’s penal policies remain very much in tune with Nordic approaches, which have largely resisted the punitive impulses evident in English-speaking countries.

Comparisons between the prison systems of Ireland and Iceland reveal a much lower rate of incarceration, and more socially inclusive attitudes, in the latter. The paper examines, in particular, prison regimes in each country; on most criteria, conditions and the manner of treating people in prison in Iceland are seen to be significantly better than in Ireland. The thinking behind the different policies and practices is explored: concepts such as ‘dynamic security’, ‘balancing care and custody’ and ‘normalisation’ have much greater currency in the prison system of Iceland than in that of Ireland.

Click here for full article.

A Critique of the Prison Reentry Discourse: Futurity, Presence, and Commonsense

This study raises basic questions about reentry programs in the United
States and the discourses of reentry that currently frame policy, research,
and programs. We compare Nordic discourses with those in the United
States and illustrate how the latter curtail a more complex understanding
of the presence of loved ones in the life of an incarcerated father. We
found that U.S. reentry discourses in general are future-oriented and
convey hopelessness about the capacity of loved ones separated by prison
to be positively present—physically and imaginatively—to each other. We
conclude the study with implications for a humanizing curriculum.

Muth et al, Prison Journal, 2016

Click here for full article.

Redefining Standards Downwards:

The Deterioration in Basic Living Conditions in Irish Prisons and the Failure of Policy

The phrase ‘redefining standards’ might be assumed to imply a commitment to higher, more rigorous, standards, along with the more effective enforcement of such standards. In the case of the Irish prison system, however, we have seen over the past two decades alarming examples of where standards have been re-defined downwards, so that, for a majority of those detained in our prisons, basic living conditions have significantly deteriorated and the experience of being in prison has become even more burdensome and damaging.

Click here for full article.

Valued members of society?

Social inclusiveness in the characterisation of prisoners in Ireland, Denmark, Finland and Norway

This paper draws on one strand of research that examined
whether the rise in punitiveness in relation to imprisonment that
has taken place in the USA, Britain and Ireland in recent times
can be found in Denmark, Finland or Norway.

Click here for full paper.