‘Prison policy in Ireland: Rehabilitation, Research & Reform’- An on-line lecture

The ACJRD’s annual Martin Tansey lecture has hosted a variety of of renowned and well respected speakers in the area of criminal justice. These have included Professor Fergus McNeil, the then Secretary of the Department of Justice Sean Aylward, Professor David B.Wexler and Dr Shane Kilcommins.

This years lecture was given by Dr Mary Rogan. Dr Rogan’s research has focused on issues of imprisonment and penal reform, and her recently published book, Prison Policy in Ireland: Politics, Penal-Welfarism and Political Imprisonmentexamines the history of Irish penal policy. Dr Rogan is also the Chair of the Irish Penal Reform Trust.

Therefore Mary was best placed to present the fifth annual Martin Tansey lecture:Prison policy in Ireland: Rehabilitation, Research & Reform. In the lecture Mary explores the concept of rehabilitation, examines the potential impact of research on criminal justice policy, and looks at the role of interest groups in the criminal justice system.

The lecture is an insightful overview of the development of rehabilitation in Irish penal planning. Interestingly, during the first decades of the Free State the slow and often unchanging nature of Irish penal policy is highlighted; this is despite there being bursts of enthusiasm for rehabilitation as an ideal. This stasis, as Dr Rogan describes it, remained until the early 1960s, when a new energetic Minister for Justice was appointed. In this new role Charles Haughey put rehabilitation on the penal policy agenda; making this a relatively exciting time for Irish penal policy. During the 1980s, Dr Rogan states, the concept of rehabilitation was reduced to an expensive luxury which was beyond the limited budgets of the Dept. of Justice. However, it was during the mid-1990s that a sharp and long-lasting change in the language of prisoner reform emerged; with rehabilitation now being tied to softness on crime, and became ‘something of a dirty word’.

The second section of the lecture looks at the hurdles to criminological research in Ireland; which, if encouraged, could underpin more rehabilitation orientated penal practices. Mary details the criminal justice data lacuna which stunts debates around, and development of, Irish penal policy. Basic information is seriously lacking, such as simple statistics which capture who is in our prisons and for how long, which seriously diminishes the Irish research landscape.

So how can we make a tangible impact on penal thinking and penal sanctioning? Is it better to stand opposed and become an agitator; or engage with the criminal justice insiders and policy-makers? It is essential that lobby groups maintain their critical stance, however, Dr Rogan argues that to influence government policy it is essential that groups  contribute to, and engage with penal policy debates and the actors who generate them.

Watch the lecture here: Martin Tansey Annual Lecture 2012

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