War, Peace and Penal Abolition in the North of Ireland

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


The mass early release of prisoners, many serving long sentences having been convicted of serious crimes, is a rare occurrence. Between 1998 and 2000 in the North of Ireland 428 prisoners, including 143 serving life sentences were released on licence from jail, as part of the political settlement that ended three decades of civil war. Throughout that period the six counties of Northern Ireland were under Direct Rule by the UK Government with British troops on the streets in support of the Royal Ulster Constabulary. Held as convicted criminals, yet claiming political status, the exceptional circumstances of their release demonstrates clearly the State’s capacity to recognise decarceration when politically expedient. Following a brief excursion into the historical challenges to penal incarceration within democratic states and the relationship between reformist and abolitionist perspectives, this article explores the grim reality of a failing prison system following the release of politically affiliated prisoners. It maps the inherent short-comings of penal reform and proposes that the exceptionality of early release offered a rare opportunity to extend decarceration both at the point of sentencing and in establishing progressive alternatives to prison.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Routledge International Handbook of Penal Abolitionism
EditorsMichael Coyle, David Scott
Place of PublicationLondon New York
Number of pages22
ISBN (Electronic)9780429425035
ISBN (Print)9781138354098
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2021


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