#Blog ‘PhDs in Prague: ESC 2014’

The 14th annual European Society of Criminology Conference was held in Prague from 10-13 September this year; 2014 saw a sizeable Irish contingent in attendance, with quite a few PhD students attending, some for the first time. This blog publishes the abstracts of Irish PhD students which were presented at Prague, and provides some impressions of the conference.

Prague by night... crawling with Irish criminologists!

Prague by night… crawling with Irish criminologists!

Louise Rooney

I am currently entering the third year of my PhD in the Sutherland Law School, University College Dublin. The aim of my research is to investigate the decision-making processes of criminal justice professionals when managing female offenders, with a particular focus on female child sexual abusers. Over the past couple of months I have developed my research methodology and at present I am going through the ethics process. I hope to start data collection before Christmas.

I am a member of the ESC working group ‘Gender, Crime and Justice’ that is chaired by Professor Loraine Gelsthorpe from the University of Cambridge. I presented a paper at the 14th annual Eurocrim conference as part of the panel session Gender, Crime and Justice: Methodological and Conceptual Challenges. This was my third time presenting at a criminology conference and on the morning of my presentation I was extremely nervous and felt quite intimidated by the number of high calibre academics that I was surrounded by! However, it was apparent on my arrival that the conference environment had a warm and friendly feel and I was instantly put at ease. I felt that my presentation went very well. I received a lot of positive feedback and some really helpful advice regarding my research methodology.

During the conference Loraine Gelsthorpe and Michele Burman hosted a lunch meeting for the members of the Gender, Crime, and Justice Working Group. Whilst attending this meeting I was lucky enough to casually chat with a number of researchers from all over Europe who had similar research interests as myself.

Throughout the course of the four days I attended a number of panel sessions which I found to be extremely informative and interesting. Overall, I thought the conference had a very welcoming atmosphere, was exceptionally well organised, and covered an enormous variety of criminological topics. I definitely plan to return next year!


Words and Numbers: Introducing a New Methodological Framework for Investigating the Response of Professionals to Female Perpetrated Child Sexual Abuse

Over the past couple of decades the Republic of Ireland has witnessed an upsurge in research interest into the incidence of child sexual abuse. However, the majority of this research has focused on male abusers and their victims whilst the issue of female perpetrated child sexual abuse has been largely overlooked. Findings from victim surveys demonstrate an Irish prevalence rate of female perpetrated child sexual abuse of between of 3-7%, yet to date only a minimal amount of research attention has been allocated to investigating the response of professionals to female child sexual abusers and their victims.

A small body of international research suggests that female perpetrators of child sexual abuse are treated more leniently than their male counterparts by professionals working at every stage of the criminal justice process. This paper will review the existing theoretical and empirical knowledge concerning the response of professionals to reports of child sexual abuse and why it can differ according to the gender of the perpetrator.

The majority of research investigating the response of professionals to female perpetrated child sexual abuse has been carried out using quantitative measures. Whilst quantitative measures are extremely efficient methodological tools, in that they allow the researcher to gather a large amount of information from a great number of participants in a short period of time, some theorists argue that quantitative analysis is only capable of generating one-dimensional findings which can result in a shallow understanding of the issue at hand. The author will contribute to the existing body of research by employing an innovative methodological framework that will incorporate both quantitative and qualitative measures.   The incorporation of qualitative data collection techniques will allow the researcher to explore the attitudes and decision-making processes of professionals in greater depth, thereby elucidating any bias or distortions in responses to female perpetrated child sexual abuse. 

The aim of this paper is to present a new methodology for studying this issue within an Irish context. The author will outline the qualitative and quantitative data collection methods that have been selected for the current research project and the corresponding methods of analysis will also be discussed.

Kate O’Hara

Let’s talk about PREP baby!

This was my first time attending the ESC. In fact, the first time I attended any large criminology conference. As a novice I did not know what to expect, therefore relied heavily on my fellow attendees to fill me in. The abstract had been written and accepted months in advance, but the real prep took place in the weeks approaching our departure. There is more to getting ready to go to a conference than writing the abstract, getting it accepted, putting together your presentation, and rehearsing it. Weather updates, appropriate attire, and socialising etiquette were all thrashed out via email well in advance. Once the programme was available online the stalking took place. Who was I presenting with? Who did I know attending? The PREP accumulated into hours and days.

Presentation written, boarding passes printed, directions to our accommodation sorted, I was nearly set to go. Of course I left my packing to the night before and faced the usual Ryanair dilemma. How was I going to fit all my stuff in this carry on case? I needed to bring my laptop, maybe I didn’t needed that many shoes! By 11pm, I had it sorted.

The PREP continued once I got to the conference. Examining the conference programme I plotted out my plan. Early mornings and late evenings were required, but that’s part and parcel of the ESC I’m told! Preparing for my presentation required some last minute tweaks and a quick run through. I found somewhere to print my notes and some last minute prep with Lyns right before helped sooth the nerves. The prep paid off, my paper went well. Although there were only a few attendees, questions and discussion arose. I was happy.

BUT you can’t prepare everything! You can’t always pre-empt the questions, the discourse, how other studies will make you consider your work differently. You can’t prepare for the conversations you’ll have with colleagues and others PhDs travelling on the doctoral roller-coaster. You cannot prepare for this part of the conference. Everyone’s experience is different. It is these encounters that makes all that PREP worth it! Here’s to Porto 2015, from an enthusiastic ESC novice.


A comparative study of short custodial and community service populations in Ireland: Examining sentencing in a highly discretionary system

As a result of an over-reliance on short prison sentences, Ireland introduced the Criminal Justice(Community Service)(Amendment) Act 2011 requiring courts to give greater consideration to Community Service Orders in cases where prison sentences of less than 12 months are deemed appropriate. A Community Service Order is a direct prison alternative requiring an offender to complete between 40 and 240 hours unpaid community work, in lieu of a prison term. To date, the empirical research concerning the operation of these community sanctions has been limited to oversight reports commissioned by government departments. Ireland’s highly discretionary and unstructured sentencing system provides a rare opportunity to study the behaviour of judges when relatively free of externally imposed constraints. While this is so, few have investigated sentencing trends, attempted to examine judicial influences or succeeded in prompting the reform of sentencing practices. This paper will investigate and compare factors influencing decision-making in these cases. Administrative data collected by three criminal justice agencies, pertaining to all adults sentenced to a short term of imprisonment (n = 6608) or a Community Service Order (n = 4594) between 2011 and 2012 were linked and analysed. Predictors of group membership, between group differences, as well as geographical and court variations in sentencing outcomes are presented as is an in-depth account of methodologies used. Results and implications for policy are discussed.

Aoife Watters

At the recent European Society of Criminology Conference in the beautiful city of Prague I gave a presentation on the operation of the prison disciplinary system in 19th century Ireland.  I began the presentation by briefly introducing the audience to what daily life was like in an ordered 19th century prison in Ireland and to how life differed for male and female prisoners. A corrective holistic penal policy had operated in Irish prisons from approximately the mid-19th century. The role that the disciplinary system played in the overall corrective policy was considered; it promoted the maintenance of order in prisons and encouraged the reformation of unruly prisoners. I then illuminated the discussion with findings from prison records held in the National Archives and attempted to provide an explanation for the differences found in the operation of the discipline system in the male and female prisons. This presentation forms part of the historical context of my PhD research which is titled ‘Gender and Control in Irish Prisons: The Prison Disciplinary System’.

The Panel on which I was speaking was titled ‘Imprisonment from Female Perspectives’.  The four presentations were from different jurisdictions and so a thought-provoking discussion ensued despite the session’s start at 8:30am which was preceded by the Conference dinner the previous night!

From a personal point of view it was really interesting to meet up with researchers from other jurisdictions who are carrying out research of a similar nature. From our discussions it seems that our research may very well reveal different findings and so it will be exciting to watch unfold. Getting to meet up with fellow Irish criminology PhD students also proved to be a source of inspiration and enjoyment! The trials and tribulations of being a PhD student can at times be overwhelming and so it is always good to ease the burden with other similarly-minded people! I am already looking to the ESC Conference 2015!


The maintenance of order is an important aim of prisons; Sykes declared that after custody the next most important aim of a prison is the maintenance of internal order. To maintain order a number of control mechanisms are employed by prisons, one of which is the formal disciplinary system. Indeed the formal disciplinary system has been described as being at the heart of maintaining good order and discipline in prisons (King 1985). This system, generally speaking, consists of rules and sanctions for breaches of the rules. The operation of the disciplinary system can differ substantially between prisons due to, inter alia, the heterogeneous characteristics of prisoners detained in a prison. The disciplinary process also impacts on prisoners to different extents. Research has shown that prisoners’ gender can affect the operation of the disciplinary system and it also has a bearing on the impacts of the process for prisoners. This paper offers broad analysis of the use of the disciplinary system as a control mechanism in Irish prisons. Preliminary insights from prisoner interview data will seek to identify whether the discipline system operates differently in male and female prisons and has different impacts on male and female prisoners in Ireland. The research will be discussed in the context of findings from other countries.

Colette Barry

Like some of my fellow contributors, this was my first excursion to the ESC conference. For the uninitiated, the sheer scale of the event can be momentarily overwhelming (this year’s conference hosted a whopping 1,078 participants and 799 papers!). Once you get over seeing that many criminologists in one room, it’s easy to settle in (and begin worrying about your own paper!).

I was quite fortunate to be placed on a panel alongside papers that would have been top of my ‘to see’ list. Our panel, ‘Power of institution: Different perspectives on the treatment of prisoners’ included papers from Alison Liebling on the changing shape of maximum security custody in England and Wales, Marie Hutton on power and the ‘unsentenced’ body, and Tim McSweeney on prison absconders. My own paper focused on major incidents in prison officer work, exploring some early findings from my PhD research on Irish prison officers’ experiences of deaths in custody. I commenced with a discussion of the importance of prison officers’ experiences of major incidents in our understanding of prison officer culture, highlighting the scant extant research in this area. Following this, I moved to explore three emergent themes in my study: resilience, professionalism and coping. The paper concluded with an optimistic ‘call to arms’, discussing the future potential for research in this area and encouraging participants to explore the experience of major prison incidents with officers in their own jurisdictions. The Q&A session afterwards was most enjoyable, and I was grateful for the advice of one or two participants with regard to progressing my research.

As I am approaching the final stages of my data collection, the ESC was one of my first opportunities to disseminate my research findings and I would heartily recommend to fellow PhDers at the same stage in their own studies. It was also a wonderful opportunity to meet fellow early career researchers from all corners of the globe. This year’s conference also saw a strong Irish contingent in attendance, with many Irish participants presenting papers across a variety of panels. The diverse range of research disseminated was a wonderful showcase for Irish criminology, demonstrating how criminological research continues to flourish on these shores.


‘You just get on with the job’: Exploring resilience, coping and the importance of professionalism among prison officers who have experience of dealing with a major prison incident

The prison is a unique and peculiar workplace, and one that does not always run smoothly. Major incidents, such as collective prisoner dissent, prisoner fatalities, serious violence and hostage situations become a common experience for many prison officers over time. While recent years have seen the expansion in understanding of prison officers as researchers turn their attention to the working lives and cultures of prison staff, certain aspects of prison officer work remain curiously under-discussed. Among these lesser-explored areas is the experience of dealing with major incidents. This paper seeks to contribute to the developing prison officer literature by shedding light on this aspect of prison officer work, framed within the specific context of officers’ experiences of deaths in custody. Findings from a qualitative study comprising a series of in-depth narrative interviews with prison officers who have experience of dealing with a prisoner fatality will be reported. Discussion will focus on officers’ accounts of their approach to dealing with a death in custody, both in the immediate aftermath and in the days and weeks following the event. The paper will explore the impact of dealing with a prisoner’s death on officers’ perspectives on their roles, and will consider officers’ strategies for coping and moving on following their experiences. Following this, officers’ reflections on the importance of appearing resilient and capable, both during the incident and in the aftermath will be discussed. The paper will then move to examine the high value placed upon professionalism by officers, particularly in the context of officers’ actions and decisions during the immediate response to the incident. Finally, the need for further research in this area will be articulated, emphasising the significance of future scholarship on prison officers’ experiences of major incidents as a vital contribution to existing knowledge of the working lives and cultures of prison staff, and criminological research more generally.

James Maher

PhD student at University College Dublin.


The idea for this presentation arose when carrying out a review of existing literature during my doctoral research. My PhD thesis is examining issues currently effecting foreign national prisoners in Ireland, but this talk will focus specifically on the history of imprisonment of foreign nationals in Ireland. While significant rates of immigration have undoubtedly been a relatively recent development, foreign national prisoners have still been detained here at various stages throughout the past. The scope of this presentation will cover a time period going back before Ireland gained its independence from the United Kingdom right up to the present day. Ireland was without question an extremely homogenous country until the 1990’s, when immigration became much more widespread. Despite these recent demographic changes Ireland has a much longer history of foreign national prisoners than one might initially envisage. For example, during both the First and Second World Wars citizens of other states were detained in Ireland. Such historical incidents will be examined during the presentation. In 2002, the first time a question regarding nationality was included in census questionnaires, 7% of the population were foreign nationals. Since the accession of ten new member states to the European Union that same year the level of immigration has increased significantly. The most recent census in 2011 showed that 544,000 people from 196 countries now lived in Ireland, making up 11.7% of the population. This sudden increase has inevitably coincided with a greater number of foreign national prisoners in Irish prisons. Prison statistics will be utilised to show the change in Ireland’s prison population over this period.

Slides from the conference presentation are available here:

Lynsey Black

I’m beginning the fourth year of my PhD in the Law School of Trinity College Dublin. My research explores women sentenced to death in Ireland in the nineteenth- and twentieth-centuries, unearthing the narratives used in the construction of the death-sentenced women, and exploring how gendered norms contributed to judicial disposal. I am also interested in the evolving cultural meaning of death-sentenced women and my research encompasses the entirety of discourse on a case. Case-studies are therefore constituted by findings gleaned from more recent writings and representations such as, for example, true crime writing, fictional representations, and television documentaries.

Conferences present their own special terror. They offer a chance to gorge on ideas and research which can be overwhelming. The timetable can be gruelling as the conference programme becomes a tattered rag reminiscent of a festival programme with its pen-marked circles and stars. There’s also the sometime surreal experience which comes from seeing your discipline en masse, comprised of actual people; faces to put to the articles and books. The fear for a PhD can often be palpable. Will anyone turn up for your paper (a very real fear!), will anyone ask a question, will anyone ask a stubbornly difficult question which exposes the paper and shames the presenter? In Prague, however, with the truly amazing support of my fellow PhDs, the Irish contingent (we need a catchier title), the experience was rewarding and, above all, lots of fun.

The paper I presented in Prague, The Construction of Gender in a Death Sentence Case: “Miss Cadden Found Guilty of Murdering Mrs O’Reilly’ took as its starting point one of my case-studies, the case of Mamie Cadden. However, its scope extended to include how both offender and victim were represented and provided a critique of the limited ways in which both Mamie Cadden and Helen O’Reilly were constructed.

In Prague I was fortunate enough to be part of a pre-submitted panel with David Doyle and Diarmuid Griffin. Under the title of ‘The Ultimate Penalty: Past, Present and Parole’ the papers traced the trajectory of the mandatory penalty for murder in Ireland since Independence. David Doyle provided a critical overview of capital punishment in Ireland, including its political meanings and gradual ebbing away towards total abolition in the referendum of 2001. Diarmuid Griffin presented research on the rationale behind decision-making in the parole process in Ireland relating to the release of life sentenced prisoners. The opportunity to locate my own research within this narrative was a welcome one, and the panel had a thematic coherency which situated my own work on the Cadden case within an historical context. At the 2013 conference, held in Budapest, I had presented on another of my case-studies, I can only hope that at some future ESC conference I can deliver a dazzling paper which is drawn from a completed piece of research! That’s the point of all this, right?


The case of Mamie Cadden presents an opportunity to explore an Irish death penalty case according to a gendered analysis. Mamie Cadden was sentenced to death in 1956 for the murder of Helen O’Reilly, who died during an illegal abortion procedure. The case study demonstrates how stereotypical notions of femininity were used as an unattainable yardstick, and how both women were constructed in court and in the media as failing this standard. Cadden became a notorious mythical monster while O’Reilly was presented as a nullified victim. The case provides an interesting opportunity to employ a gendered critique for both the accused and the victim, and touches on themes of monsterisation, madness and ideal victimhood, maternity and propriety.

Leave a Reply