Power and punishment: Challenging prison policy

June 24, 2024 in Featured News, News

In 2024, the Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice, Dublin, hosted a one-day workshop to discuss and challenge current prison policy in Ireland and beyond. The three papers presented on that occasion set the leading theme for the summer 2024 issue of Studies, ‘Power and punishment: Challenging prison policy’. Three further essays on the theme of prison policy have also been included in this issue.

In the first essay from the workshop, ‘The Disruption of Women’s Imprisonment: Negative Consequences and Non-Carceral Alternatives’, Shona Minson confronts the disruptive effects of women’s imprisonment on their children and then explores the questions that this raises about the proportionate nature of custodial sentences for mothers.

Continuing the focus on women’s imprisonment, Anna Schliehe investigates the rising popularity of ‘trauma-informed practice’ in women’s prisons. In ‘Women’s Imprisonment and Trauma-informed Practice – Where Do We Go From Here?’, Schliehe draws upon extensive prison fieldwork to test this emerging focus – a particularly timely issue as Ireland opened a new women’s prison in 2023, based upon ‘trauma-informed’ design considerations.

In the final paper of the workshop ‘Sowing the Seeds of Change: Dissenting Voices, Subversive Knowledges and an Abolitionist Imagination for Our Time’, David Gordon Scott, explores the penal abolitionist tradition to reflect upon penal legitimacy, penal utopias, and penological amnesia.

The other three contributions to this issue of Studies treat of prison and punishment from religious and theological perspectives. Two essays, Catherine Cox’s ‘Prison Chaplains and the “Modern” Prison System in Ireland, 1830s-1870s’ and Sheena Orr’s ‘Meeting face to face: the essential role of the chaplain’ consider the historical and contemporary role of prison chaplaincy to those whom society imprisons. In a sweeping account of 19th century Irish penological history, Cox examines not only the ministries of the chaplains but also how the prison regime overtly and covertly shaped their roles.Building upon her doctoral research conducted as a chaplain within the Scottish Prison Service, Orr reflects on the nature of face-to-face encounters, and how the chaplain provides a place of sanctuary, significance and Sabbath through their presence with the prisoner. In the final essay of the collection, JCFJ director and social theologian Kevin Hargaden explores the place of the prison within the bible and, rather than discovering positions at odds with contemporary penologists, finds texts that are either ambivalent or ‘deeply hostile to the prison’.

Apart from the set of essays on prison policy, this issue of Studies also includes ‘John Bruton: An Appreciation’, Kevin Rafter’s reflection on the person and the political career of the former Taoiseach, who died in February of this year. Bruton was an occasional contributor to Studies. And in ‘The Rise of the Far-Right, Part II: Towards a new politics’, Peadar Kirby continues his reflection on the correct way to respond to the far-right, specifically by developing what Pope Francis has called ‘a better kind of politics’, one that is ‘primarily concerned with individuals and the common good’.

The Friends of the National Collections of Ireland, a body that supports public galleries and museums throughout the country, celebrates its centenary this year. In ‘A century of gifts to Irish galleries and museums by the Friends of the National Collections of Ireland’, the body’s current president, John Turpin, describes the work it has done since its foundation in 1924. And in ‘The Seven Pillars of Jesuit Wisdom: What Characterizes Jesuit Education?’, Australian theologian Gerald O’Collins SJ identifies what he calls ‘seven sources of human and Christian wisdom’ on which Jesuit pedagogy has been built since its inception.

Two Irish poets are represented in this issue of Studies, James Harpur and Peter Sirr, both members of Aosdána, the association of artists set up by the Irish Arts Council in 1981.

The cover image of this issue, ‘West of Ireland landscape’, is a mixed-media composition by an inmate of Castlerea Prison, Co. Roscommon. To subscribe to Studies or to purchase this issue, click here ».