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Ireland's Ennis Inebriates' Reformatory: A 19th Century Example of Failed Institutional Reform

NCJ Number
Federal Probation Quarterly Volume: 53 Issue: 1 Dated: (March 1989) Pages: 53-64
B A Smith
Date Published
12 pages
In the late 19th century, Ireland's government converted Ennis County Prison into a State inebriates' reformatory under General Prisons Board (GPB) authority in an effort to facilitate institutional reform.
Prior to centralization in the 1800's, the Irish prison system was a mixture of State-run convict prisons, local gaols (major facilities holding convicted prisoners not sentenced to penal servitude), and bridewells (small facilities holding defendants prior to trial or offenders serving very short sentences). Gaols and bridewells were operated independently by county and city authorities. The 1895 Gladstone Report on prisons called for major reforms, but the GPB was only partially effective in enforcing these reforms in local and convict prisons under its control. The temperance movement and persons interested in the rehabilitation of inebriates led to legislation in 1898 that established inebriate reformatories in England, Wales, and Scotland. Closed as a prison in 1880, the Ennis County Jail reopened in 1900 as a reformatory for inebriates. Ennis was to provide treatment, not deterrence, and reforms made were cosmetic or transitory. Inadequate release procedures constituted a key reason cited by officials for their inability to cure inmates of drunkenness. Officials also argued for longer mandatory sentences. Ennis never operated effectively; the inmate population never grew enough to match the reformatory's size or to justify expenditures for facility renovation and maintenance. Ennis inmates and operational procedures employed by the facility prior to its demise are described. 49 references.