Book Review: Inside by Christina M. Quinlan
- Last Updated on Thursday, 01 March 2012 19:59
- Tatiana Kelly
Inside: Ireland's Women's Prisons Past and Present by Christina M. Quinlan (2011) Dublin: Irish Academic Press.
The secret world of the prison is one which is unknown to the majority of the population, yet prisons hold a fascination for many in the outside world. Nonetheless, it is unlikely that anyone would scale the walls of a prison to get inside, nor would the vast majority use a prison as a place of shelter. However, instances of both are recorded within the pages of Inside: Ireland's Women's Prisons Past and Present.
Essentially, Inside poses the very fundamental question as to what the purpose of the prison actually is. Is prison for correction or containment? And if so, does it in fact serve these purposes? The answers to these and many other questions in relation to women's prisons in Ireland are provided in this comprehensive study by author Christina Quinlan of Dublin City University.
Very little research has been published on the experience of women who are imprisoned in the Republic of Ireland. This book is an attempt by the author to address that gap and provides substantial empirical research on Ireland's imprisoned women, their experience of imprisonment, currently and historically.
One of the distinguishing features of women's imprisonment in Ireland is the imprisonment of poor, disadvantaged, uneducated and addicted women for crimes related to addictions. The female prison population, generally small and unstable, is often described as more difficult, more marginalised and more troubled. While at the same time the crimes associated with women could be described as minor offences and theft. And, in comparison with other countries, Ireland demonstrates the low level of female crime, particularly violent crimes.
Inside examines and analyses the history of female imprisonment over the last two centuries by looking at the statistics and historical events to explain the patterns of rapid increases and decreases in women's prison population. It also provides a comprehensive review of other correctional institutions for women in Ireland, its nature, structure, conditions and philosophy behind them, as well as women's experience in them and the analysis of the crimes committed.
Much of what we read about prisons comes to us thorough the sensationalist filter of the media. Chapter Three, in particular, deals with media (mis)representations of imprisoned women in the Irish case. Writers such as Jewekes have outlined the manner in which various techniques employed by the media can shape public perception of crime in society. In relation to female criminality, Quinlan demonstrates that only the most extreme cases drew the attention of the press and the representation of women in most of them was very disturbing. The media often simplifies and reduce complex stories to make them more easily understood.
Within these framing processes, individual subjectivities can become stereotyped and victimised. Such stereotyping can influence society's approach to imprisonment. Even in terms of prison design and management with a big emphasis on security, the women are labelled as 'dangerous', irrespective of the crime they committed.
Another central issue raised by the author concerns the comparison of female and male prisoners' behaviour patterns within the prison. There is an informal agreement between the prison officers that imprisoned women are more difficult to deal with, more aggressive, demanding and prone to causing self-harm. And with no other place for these trouble women to go to for the committal of petty crimes in general, there is a concern expressed by the author about the frequently inappropriate use of imprisonment and the needless criminalisation of women.
Modern prisons lack adequate medical facilities and therefore cannot provide tailored approach for each situation. Pressure on imprisoned women to look after the family outside the prison walls and other related affairs, lack of drugs and alcohol for addicted women as well as imprisonment itself often causes the aggression for which simple solution can be found. Instead, women are considered to be more troubled in prison than man.
In 2001, only three per cent of women were sentences for periods of one year or more. Most of women were imprisoned for minor offences, generally committed to feed their addictions, the motive which was beyond their will power, the product of automatism. Most of women were also young, poor and uneducated, which would hardly suggest premeditated bad intent. Majority of them experience violence at home, were forced to use drugs and were in need of therapy. Despite that, the only place for majority of them in Ireland is the prison with its traditional approaches. For this reason, some women deliberately use prison as a temporary shelter.
Coming out of prison, women face another problem: lack of after-prison support, inability of managing the affairs independently after being completely dependent on prison staff. All this issues and many more, which are highlighted by the author and indeed by the prisoners interviewed, indicate the need for reform of female's prisons. And with very little data on women's experience of imprisonment, its social and cultural impact, it is certainly an area which needs a further research.
The author concludes that existing approaches to imprisonment are in need of reform. In particular, Quinlan highlights the need to make the female prison more therapeutically orientated. The establishment of the Dochas Centre is highlighted as one such positive move, where the traditional prison approach is combined with a more flexible and personal approach towards the female prisoners until the time when it, like other prisons, became overcrowded.
The book is completed with an excellent set of statistical data, interviews, photographs and comprehensive references, which makes Inside a very valuable source for any research on prisons in Ireland, a contribution for which the author should be commended.
Inside: Ireland's Women's Prisons Past and Present by Christina M. Quinlan (2011) Dublin: Irish Academic Press is available for order here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Inside-Irelands-Womens-Prisons-Present/dp/0716530465/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1314716888&sr=1-1
 Yvonne Jewkes, (2004) Media and Crime: A Critical Introduction (Key Approaches to Criminology) London: Sage
Reviewed by Tatiana Kelly, B. Ling (Hon), AITI, Dip.LS, LL.B Candidate at the National University of Ireland, Galway