Current Issue

Showing 1–12 of 13 results

Power and Punishment: Challenging Prison Policy, Vol 113, No 450

Add To Cart

Full issue



Read Editorial

In his acclaimed work on the shifts in behaviour, manners and social norms from the Middle Ages into modernity that made up ‘the civilising process’, German sociologist Norbert Elias noted the tendency for distasteful things to be gradually ‘removed behind the scenes of social life’. Public nudity, the performance of bodily functions, public displays of punishment, and the like – all of these came to offend against the growing ‘delicacy of feeling’ that marked the emerging sense of ‘civility’. Disturbing aspects of life were moved to more private or discreet places. Another feature of the civilising process that Elias detected was that the nation-states that emerged in the seventeenth century began to lay sole claim to the exercise of force. Violence, in other words, could only be legitimated through the centralised, bureaucratised world of the judicial system, the police, and the military. Contemporary prison systems show the marks of both of these processes, and not in every respect for the better. The ‘civilisation curve’, as Elias knew well, can easily be interrupted by an opposite process, a ‘decivilising’ one. The latter may even, in fact, be facilitated by the civilising process itself. In spite of good intentions, making the management of crime and punishment equitable easily leads to an over-dependence on incarceration as a single model solution. Those that the system determines to punish become the distasteful elements that must be kept from public view. They are radically decoupled from their own life-worlds, even for lesser crimes, which may well lead to the unjust disregard of the needs of their communities and dependents, as well as to a loss of personal dignity and to disproportionate damage to their reputation. A more nuanced policy is needed.

As Jeremy Travis, a prominent advocate of justice reform in the US, has repeatedly insisted, a principle of parsimony is needed when it comes to criminal justice. The state must be careful not to intrude on the life and liberty of citizens any more than is necessary to achieve a legitimate social purpose. There are many alternatives to incarceration for many types of crimes, and these may well be more effective at reducing crime, enhancing public safety, preserving personal dignity, and minimising the upset to the world of those – themselves perfectly innocent – whose lives are bound to that of the offender.

In January of this year, 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 workshop was generously funded by the St Stephen’s Green Trust. The three papers presented on that occasion are published in this issue of Studies, and three further essays, follow-up reflections on the theme of the workshop, are also given here. My thanks are due to Keith Adams, Penal Policy Advocate at the centre, who organised the workshop and who curated the essays for this issue. In his introduction, after this editorial, he summarises the six essays.


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 Characterises 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. I am grateful to Tom Shortt, Arts Officer with the Irish Prison Service, for arranging that we could reproduce it here.


  • Four Poems

    James Harpur

    Read Article Summary

    The Glance (After Ronsard, Sonnets for Helen, 1.9)

    The other day I saw you in Merrion Square –
    Just walking through – you glanced
    Towards my window – I was standing there

    7.00 Purchase Single Article
  • Friends of the National Collections of Ireland: A Century of Gifts

    John Turpin

    Read Article Summary

    Public collections of fine and decorative art, and other historic public collections, are a great cultural and educational resource in Ireland, North and South. Gifts of works of art to public institutions from private individuals have enabled these collections to grow since the foundation of the state. The Friends of the National Collections of Ireland (FNCI) has been central to this growth, especially at times when there was little funding from the state for the galleries and museums of the country

    7.00 Purchase Single Article
  • John Bruton: An Appreciation

    Kevin Rafter

    Read Article Summary

    Whether it was powering down the corridors in Leinster House or hastily arriving into a radio studio, the image of John Bruton that sticks in my mind is of a man on the move. He did not have the easy gait of an athlete, but he walked with powerful intent. And then there was the laugh, raucous but warm. It almost wrapped itself around those in his company. In my work as an academic, and my previous career as a political journalist, I interviewed John Bruton many times – as leader of Fine Gael, as taoiseach, and also in his very active years after leaving national politics in Ireland.

    7.00 Purchase Single Article
  • Meeting Face to Face: the Essential Role of the Prison Chaplain

    Sheena Orr

    Read Article Summary

    During the Covid pandemic the need for many face-to-face services within prisons were questioned and all but essential staff were left in direct contact with prisoners. Like the Irish Prison Service, the Scottish Prison Service (SPS) replaced face-to-face visits with virtual ones. Also, in SPS, individual mobile phones, previously illegal, were issued to every prisoner, complete with 300 minutes call time per month.

    7.00 Purchase Single Article
  • Poem: from Hear

    Peter Sirr

    Read Article Summary

    from Hear

    Who wouldn’t want it, the voices
    eaping, the delighted
    notes hallelujahing

    7.00 Purchase Single Article
  • Prison Abolition in a Time of Overcrowding: Sowing the Seeds for Change

    David Gordon Scott

    Read Article Summary

    This article reflects upon questions around penal legitimacy and the importance of sowing the seeds of change in Irish penal policy. It is argued that prisons should be regarded as an inherently problematic institutional response to criminalised behaviours and that further prison reforms are an insufficient remedy to such endemic problems.

    7.00 Purchase Single Article
  • Prison Chaplains and the ‘Modern’ Prison System in Ireland, 1830s–1870s

    Catherine Cox

    Read Article Summary

    From the eighteenth century, new penal reform theories and technologies emerged across the Western world, and these were deeply rooted in varied Christian contexts. Pope Clement XI, for example, opened the city of Rome’s first modern prison, San Michele a Ripa, in 1703, which is said to have influenced Ghent House of Correction in Belgium (1772).

    7.00 Purchase Single Article
  • The Disruption of Women’s Imprisonment: Negative Consequences and Non-Carceral Alternatives

    Shona Minson

    Read Article Summary

    Punishment is not a binary process, affecting only victim and offender, nor a transactional process between the state and the punished. Punishment impacts not just those directly involved, but also families, communities, and society more generally. Punishment sets in motion events with long-term consequences, and very little attention is paid at sentencing to the life-changing effects of even short sentences of imprisonment.

    7.00 Purchase Single Article
  • The Place of the Prison in the Bible

    Kevin Hargaden

    Read Article Summary

    ‘What does the Bible say about prisons?’, appears, at first glance, to be a question that, we could only charitably grant, has a relatively niche interest. It would be an understandable response to assume that this question only has relevance for the diminishing numbers of people who read these texts devotionally, and even then, it is hardly a central hermeneutical lens through which to consider their tradition.

    7.00 Purchase Single Article
  • The Rise of the Far-Right, Part II: Towards a New Politics

    Peadar Kirby

    Read Article Summary

    When Fr Maurizio Patriciello, parish priest of Caivano, described Caivano as ‘a desolate, crime-ridden town on the outskirts of Naples’, controlled by the mafia, risking again the wrath of the crime bosses, he took the unusual step of writing to Italian Prime Minister, Giorgia Meloni, of the far-right Brothers of Italy party. ‘Her quick response left me really stunned’, the priest told the Guardian.

    7.00 Purchase Single Article
  • The Seven Pillars of Jesuit Wisdom: What Characterises Jesuit Education?

    Gerald O’Collins SJ

    Read Article Summary

    This article will deal with Jesuit education – that is to say, with education provided by Jesuits in high schools, colleges, universities, and elsewhere. It is Jesuit education that I have mostly experienced during a lifetime of study and teaching. I do not claim that Jesuit education has proved a truly unique tradition, that is, strictly speaking, the only one of its kind. But I do believe that at least seven distinct characteristics have converged to characterise Jesuit pedagogy and make it effective in the field of human and Catholic education.

    7.00 Purchase Single Article