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Risk, Politics and the "Scientification" of Political Judgement: Prisoner Release and Conflict Transformation in Northern Ireland

NCJ Number
British Journal of Criminology Volume: 47 Issue: 5 Dated: September 2007 Pages: 779-797
Clare D. Dwyer
Date Published
September 2007
19 pages
Drawing on research into the process of release from prison under Northern ireland's Belfast/Good Friday Agreement ("The Agreement"), this paper discusses the identification and classification of risk regarding prisoners released early under Northern Ireland's Sentences Act.
Characterized as a system designed largely to accommodate "politically motivated" prisoners, Northern Ireland's prison system operated under policies and regulations different from prison systems in other jurisdictions. This paper questions the motivation and operation of risk assessment in Northern Ireland and how it was applied to prisoners released early under the Agreement. The paper first summarizes the literature on risk, with attention to how the concept of risk is understood and applied in penal policy. The second part of the paper addresses the development of risk assessment in Northern Ireland since the beginning of the violent political conflict there. The third part of the paper analyzes the role of risk assessment under the Agreement. Drawing on empirical research regarding the role of the Sentence Review Board and using case studies of prisoners who qualified for release under the scheme, the author argues that traditional scientific strategies of standardized risk assessment were not used under the peace agreement; rather, assessment was based on organizational and political factors. Risk assessment thus became an ambiguous concept subject to change in criteria for risk based on political settings and the political motivations of prisoners. The release of prisoners under peace agreements has led to the development of "politicized risk assessment" technologies that have a fundamental role in the process of prisoner release under international peace agreements. 41 references