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'Earned Privilege' of Family Contact in Northern Ireland: Judicial Justification of Prisoners' Loss of Family Life

NCJ Number
Howard Journal of Criminal Justice Volume: 47 Issue: 5 Dated: December 2008 Pages: 486-500
Alice Diver
Date Published
December 2008
15 pages
This article focuses on recent examples of Northern Ireland jurisprudence which are concerned with the curtailment of the right to family life during periods of incarceration, especially those limitations on family life which have been imposed through the exercise of prison governor discretion.
Within Northern Ireland, access to an individual’s family life during imprisonment is increasingly coming to be regarded by the judiciary as an exceptional rather than essential factor in relation to preventing recidivism among offenders. Recent changes to domestic ‘home leave’ regulations in Northern Ireland have been the subject of judicial review by a number of adversely affected prisoners. The policy dilemma appears to be whether familial contact should be granted in sufficient amounts to enable psychological coping and reintegration responses to occur, or sparingly rationed to maintain a veneer of discipline within the prison environment. Recent jurisprudence on family life during incarceration has inverted the concept of the right, framing it as ‘earned privilege’ and linking it to subjective notions of good behavior. This has created a subcategory of the right, also diminishing its normative status. In many of the judgments referred to in this article, judicial concern for public opinion seems to sideline the need to promote family life. Through the use of examples of Northern Ireland jurisprudence, this article examines how access to an individual’s family life during imprisonment is increasingly becoming regarded by the judiciary as an exceptional factor, and not, as an essential factor. Notes, references


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