Book launches can be quite dry affairs, but the launch last week of Christina Quinlan's Inside: Ireland's Women's Prisons, Past and Present was a stark exception.
For anyone interested in prison history or the development of women's rights in Ireland, Christina Quinlan's book is a must; but the launch also brought home how important the story of imprisonment is as a prism for Irish social history.
From a historical perspective, perhaps the most striking dimension to the story Christina presents is the fact that Ireland went from having the highest level of female imprisonment in the world in the 19th century to having the lowest rate in the 20th century. Equally striking is how deeply intertwined poverty and prison have been in Irish history. In 1850 a staggering 115,871 people were sent to prison, most seeking shelter from the famine. Alcoholism, homelessness and prostitution are also recurrent themes.
Turning to the twentieth century and to the present day, Christina recounts the inspirational moment that was the opening of the Dóchas Centre and all of the brave and progressive thinking that went into its development from politicians, officials and prison staff. John Lonergan, in launching the book, paid tribute to Governors Kathleen McMahon and Mary O’Connor for their role in developing what was until recently a model women’s prison.
Christina’s story, though, ends on a negative note. Our pattern of imprisonment of women, after a century of decline is now moving upwards again at a worrying rate. After the far-sighted policies of Maura Geoghegan Quinn and Nora Owen, bunk beds are being put into the Dóchas Centre, beds into recreational areas, and office accommodation is being converted to dormitories. There have been many damning indictments of our State in recent years, but the fact that women are still committing petty crimes to get into prisons in the 21st is one of the worst.
Christina herself brings to this topic a deep passion and personal commitment to the dignity of the women who are detained in Dóchas and in Limerick, and has been a central member of the Women in Prison Reform Alliance over the last few years, working with IPRT to get the cause of women prisoners on the political agenda. This book is timely and we must be hopeful that the new Government listens to this account of the wastefulness of current policy towards the marginalised women who end up in the prison system.
Inside: Ireland's Women's Prisons, Past and Present is published by Irish Academic Press, with a Foreword by Mary Robinson at €24.95 paperback or €60 hardback and is available in bookshops nationally and from Irish Academic Press.
Prison Reform in India, a Female Perspective
On Wed 16th February, 2011 The School of Applied Language and Intercultural Studies, DCU will host a panel discussion on 'Prison Reform in India, a Female Perspective.' The panel will be comprised of Dr. Upneet Lalli, deputy director of the Institute for Correctional Administration, Chandigarh, India; Dr. Christina Quinlan, author of Inside: Ireland's Women's Prisons, Past and Present; and John Lonergan, former governor of Mountjoy Prison.
Upneet Lalli is one of the leading Indian references in penal reform, having published extensively on the subject (The Problems of Female Victims of Crime, 2008) but also involved in policy change at a governmental level. Her analysis of the challenges of correctional administration in India promises to be insightful, followed by a lively panel discussion and reception.
Date:16th February, 2011
Location: seminar room, fourth floor, INVENT Building, DCU