Prison Law at Dublin Institute of Technology

We are delighted that the School of Languages, Law and Social Sciences is the first academic institution to offer a module in Prison Law anywhere in Ireland.

I developed this module, and it first ran in 2014/15. The level of interest and engagement from students was heartening, and bodes well for the future of the subject, the legal profession and the prison system.

As Sharon Dolovich of UCLA has written so persuasively, prison law is an essential topic for law students. Our traditional courses tend to stop at the moment of conviction or sentencing. It is very rare for law students to examine what happens post-sentencing, and yet prisons are a hugely important source of public law. Classic administrative law decisions such as St Germain developed from a prison law issue.

This should come as no surprise. Prisons are places where the rule of law can be in peril, and the fairness of decision-making has important consequences for penal legitimacy. The good order of prisons is intimately connected with feelings of justice and fairness, amongst both prisoners and staff. Reasons for decisions, and opportunities to seek external redress are two critical elements in a prison system which upholds the value of the rule of law.

Prisons can also be important sources of human rights principles, and family law, particularly where visiting rights are at issue. As Hogan J has written in Connolly v Governor of Wheatfield Prison:

While due and realistic recognition must be accorded by the judicial branch to the difficulties inherent in the running of a complex prison system and the detention of individuals, many of whom are difficult and even dangerous, for its part the judicial branch must nevertheless exercise a supervisory function to ensure that the essence of these core constitutional values and rights – the dignity of the individual and the protection of the person – are not compromised … The obligation to treat all with dignity appropriate to the human condition is not dispensed with simply because those who claim that the essence of their human dignity has been compromised happen to be prisoners. …

The obligation to treat all with dignity appropriate to the human condition is not dispensed with simply because those who claim that the essence of their human dignity has been compromised happen to be prisoners. …

Prisons can test the limits of the universality of human rights principles, and the application of those principles in prisons teaches us much about human rights norms.

I look forward to seeing a generation of lawyers trained in prison law transforming jurisprudence on prison law and enhancing the accountability of the prison system. I hope our module on Prison Law will play a small part in that process.

More information on studying Prison Law as a CPD option can be obtained from: l.aw@dit.ie

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Prison Law at Dublin Institute of Technology

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