Penal Culture in Ireland
D. Farrell and N. Hardiman (eds.); The Oxford Handbook of Irish Politics. Oxford University Press, Forthcoming
31 Pages Posted: 22 Feb 2019
Date Written: February 22, 2019
The imprisonment rate in Ireland is low relative to the rest of the common law world and compares favourably with other EU countries. In recent years it has declined. However, it would be misleading to interpret these trends as evidence of a national commitment to leniency or a coherent strategy of penal parsimony. Before we turn our attention to contemporary arrangements a brief historical digression is required.
Punishment is about more than imprisonment and, especially during the first half-century after its foundation in 1922, the Irish state made extensive use of institutions outside the criminal justice system to deal with the deviant and the difficult. ‘Coercive confinement’ is the term coined by O’Sullivan and O’Donnell (2007) to embrace the range of sites where men, women and children were held against their will. These included prisons, Borstal, reformatory and industrial schools, mother and baby homes, psychiatric hospitals, and Magdalen homes. While some of these places were supposedly oriented towards treatment or training rather than punishment, they were felt by their inmates to be austere, degrading, and stigmatising.
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