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Experiencing Prison Oversight: Interviews with NPMs and oversight bodies

About the Project

The Project aims:

1. To find out whether accountability is a distinctive norm of the European legal system in the field of prisons;

2. To engage in comparative legal analysis on the topic of accountability in prisons by exploring European law and that of the United States and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights;

3. To find out how accountability is experienced by prisoners, prison staff and staff of bodies such as Ombudsmen, inspectors, and bodies which deal with complaints;

4. To create a typology of accountability bodies in European prison systems, and examine the relationship between the presence of such bodies and other indicators of prison regimes.

The PRILA project will be organising conferences and seminars on its work, as well as developing briefing papers for policymakers and people affected by accountability, inspection and oversight of prisons.

New Study on Prison Staff's Views of Oversight - 3 February 2022

What do you think of prison oversight?

Are you an officer in the Irish Prison Service? We are looking for participants in our research study about oversight and accountability in prisons. If you are an officer up to the grade of Assistant Chief Officer (or equivalent substantive grade), we would like to hear about your experiences.

This would involve an interview with one of our research team members, at a time that suits you. Interviews can take place either online or by telephone and will last around one hour. We will discuss your role as an officer, your experiences of dealing with inspection and monitoring bodies and the courts, and the prisoner complaints system. Everything you discuss with us will be entirely confidential and you will not be identified in this research.

The research project is being carried out by Trinity College Dublin and has been funded by the European Research Council. It is fully independent of the Irish Prison Service. You can read more about the aims of the project here.

If you are happy to share your experiences with us or have any questions about taking part, please contact Dr Mary Rogan, the Principal Investigator of the project, or Dr Jayne Finlay, Research Fellow. You can get in touch by email at, or, or by phone on 01 896 4271.

PRILA Interviews with Staff of Oversight Bodies.

We want to hear from staff of NPMs and prison oversight bodies on their experiences of their work. To do so, we have invited a selected group of European Union (EU) Member States + UK to participate in the first interviews on prison oversight bodies. This data collection effort aims to better understand the experiences of staff who work in prison oversight across the EU+UK. PRILA has already carried out the first EU+UK-wide survey of NPMs and prison oversight bodies here and we are very grateful to our participants for helping us to understand the structures for prison oversight.

Now, we want to understand the experiences of those who work in prison oversight. To do this, we are carrying out interviews with staff of NPMs and prison oversight bodies. The interviews are being conducted in two phases to give oversight bodies space to deal with the pandemic, with a first phase in spring 2020 and a second phase in summer/autumn 2021. NPMs and other oversight bodies have been randomly selected and received an email from prila at with an invitation to be interviewed.

The Experiencing Prison Oversight study is the first cross-national interview research on prison oversight bodies across the EU. Its main objective is to understand the experiences of prison oversight bodies in their work in order to develop our knowledge of the work of such bodies, including their opportunities and challenges. These interviews are being led by Research Fellow, Dr. Marie Steinbrecher and Principal Investigator, Dr. Mary Rogan.


Consultative Council

The PRILA project is grateful for the support and assistance of an international Consultative Council. Members of the Consultative Council provide guidance, suggestions and advice to the research team on the project. Members of the Consultative Council act in an advisory capacity.

The members of the Consultative Council are Ian Cameron, Niall Walsh, Kitty Calavita, Azrini Wahidin, Valerie Jenness, Professor Dirk van Zyl Smit, Dr. Jamie Bennett, Don Specter, Hugh Chetwynd and Jim Mitchell. Further information can be found below.

Dr Jamie Bennett

Jamie Bennett has worked in prisons since 1996 and held a number of senior positions. He is currently Governor of HMP Grendon & Springhill.

HMP Grendon is a unique establishment, being the only prison to operate entirely as a series of therapeutic communities. The work of Grendon has an international reputation in providing effective interventions for men who have committed serious offences and have personality disorders. HMP Springhill is an innovative open prison which helps men to prepare for their release and resettle into the community.

Jamie is editor of the Prison Service Journal and has published over 100 articles and reviews covering topics including: prisons and the media, social inequality and imprisonment, and the development of managerialism. He has produced three books: Understanding Prison Staff (ed with Ben Crewe and Azrini Wahidin Willan 2008), Dictionary of Prisons and Punishment (ed with Yvonne Jewkes Willan 2008) and The Prisoner (ed with Ben Crewe Routledge 2011). He is currently completing a PhD thesis entitled: The Working Lives of Prison Managers: An Exploration of Agency and Structure in the Late Modern Prison.

Kitty Calavita

Kitty Calavita is Chancellor’s Professor Emerita of Criminology, Law and Society at the University of California, Irvine. She was President of the Law & Society Association in 2000-2001, and is a Thorsten Sellin Fellow of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. She received the Law & Society Association’s Harry Kalven award in 2015. She has published widely in the fields of immigration and immigration lawmaking, and more recently on prisons and legal mobilization. An early book, Inside the State: The Bracero Program, Immigration, and the INS (1992), documented the internal dynamics of the INS in shaping the Bracero Program, and connected structural contradictions in the political economy to the details of agency decision making. Another book, Invitation to Law & Society, provides an accessible overview of the burgeoning field of socio-legal studies. Her most recent book (with Valerie Jenness), Appealing to Justice: Prisoner Grievances, Rights, and Carceral Logic (2015), focuses on the grievance process in California prisons, and explores the contradictions and intersections between the logics of rights and punitive control.

Ian Cameron

Ian Cameron joined Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland (CJINI) as an Inspector in May 2009.

CJINI is an independent, statutory inspectorate established in 2003 under s.45 of the Justice (Northern Ireland) Act 2002. It is the only unified inspectorate in the United Kingdom or Ireland that can look at all the agencies that make up the criminal justice system apart from the judiciary. Organisations which CJI inspect include the police service, prison service, prosecution service, youth justice services, probation service and the courts.

Since joining CJINI, Ian has carried out a number of inspections of the three prisons in Northern Ireland, but has also undertaken a number of thematic prison inspections including Corporate Governance in the Northern Ireland Prison Service, the Management of Life and ICS Prisoners, the Safety of Prisoners held by the Northern Ireland Prison Service, and is currently engaged in an Inspection of Prisoner Resettlement.

In the wider criminal justice system he has carried out Inspections of Securing Attendance at Court, Mental Health, the Enforcement of Fines, Avoidable Delay, Domestic Violence and Abuse, Youth Offending Interventions and the Northern Ireland Courts Service Estate. Most recently his inspection work was in relation to cyber-crime and business crime.

Hugh Chetwynd

Hugh Chetwynd grew up in South Africa and England. In April 1993, joined the Council of Europe (international organisation with 47 countries working on human rights, the rule of law and democracy, based in Strasbourg, France). From 1993-2002 he worked on criminal justice reform in Albania; abolition of the death penalty in Europe; training of legal professionals on the European Convention on Human Rights. He was Head of Office in Bosnia and Herzegovina from 2002-2005, working notably in fields of criminal justice (including prisons), human rights and education, and constitutional reform. From 2005 to present he works with the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT), assessing the treatment of persons deprived of their liberty in 47 countries (notably, prisons, police stations and immigration detention but also psychiatric institutions and social care home); worked on number of thematic issues such as solitary confinement, life-sentenced prisoners, immigration detention, combatting impunity, children in detention. See

Valerie Jenness

Valerie Jenness is a Professor in the Department of Criminology, Law and Society and in the Department of Sociology at the University of California, Irvine. Her research focuses on the politics of crime control and transformations in corrections and public policy. She is the author of four books, including, most recently, Appealing to Justice: Prisoner, Grievances, Rights, and Carceral Logic (with Kitty Calavita, University of California Press, 2015), and many articles published in sociology, law, and criminology journals. Her work has been honored with awards from the American Sociological Association, the Society for the Study of Social Problems, the Pacific Sociological Association, the Law and Society Association, the Western Society of Criminology, University of California, and Gustavus Myers Center for the Study of Bigotry and Human Rights in North America.

Her studies of sexual assault in prisons, the management of prisoners with mental health concerns, transgender prisoners, and the inmate appeals system in prison have informed public policy. She has served on the California Governor’s Rehabilitation Strike Team to assist with the implementation of legislation designed to provide rehabilitation services to tens of thousands of California prisoners (AB 900). More recently, she has worked with the Los Angeles Police Department, the United States Courts for the 9th circuit, and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to develop and implement innovative policy.

Don Specter

Don Specter is the Executive Director of the Prison Law Office, California. Don joined the Prison Law Office in 1979, and became its Executive Director in 1984. Don is responsible for the administration of the office and for directing litigation aimed at improving conditions in adult and juvenile correctional facilities. He has been lead counsel in numerous impact cases and has successfully argued cases at all levels in the California and federal courts, including successfully arguing before the U.S. Supreme Court in Brown v. Plata, 563 U.S. 493 (2011) (holding the court-mandated population limit for California prisons was necessary to remedy violations of prisoners’ constitutional rights to adequate medical and mental health care) and Pa. Dep’t of Corr. v. Yeskey, 524 U.S. 206 (1998) (unanimously holding the Americans with Disabilities Act applies to state prisoners). Don created and directs the US-European Criminal Justice Innovation Program which, in partnership with the Criminal Justice & Health Consortium at U.C. San Francisco, brings correctional leaders on facilitated tours of European prisons where they learn about innovative and humane approaches to sentencing, treatment and prison reform. He was a member of the Civil Justice Reform Act Advisory Committee to Northern District of California and chair of the California State Bar’s Commission on Corrections. Don earned his B.A. in Economics from New College in Sarasota, Florida in 1974 and his J.D. from the University of San Francisco School of Law in 1978. He was admitted to the California State Bar in November 1978.

Professor Dirk van Zyl Smit

Dirk van Zyl Smit is Professor of Comparative and International Penal Law at the University of Nottingham. From 1982 to 2005 he was Professor of Criminology at the University of Cape Town, where he was also Dean of the Faculty of Law from 1990 to 1995. In 2012 he was Global Visiting Professor at the New York University School of Law. In recent years he has also held appointments as a visiting professor at the Humboldt University in Berlin, the Paul Cezanne University in Aix en Provence and the Catholic University of Leuven.

He holds BA and LLB degrees from the University of Stellenbosch and a PhD from the University of Edinburgh. In 2008 he was awarded an honorary doctorate in law by the Ernst-Moritz-Arndt University of Greifswald in Germany. He has been an Alexander von Humboldt Fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Foreign and International Penal Law in Freiburg and a Senior Fulbright Research Fellow at the New York University School of Law. He is also an Advocate of the High Court of South Africa.

Niall Walsh

Niall is Manager of the 'Pathways Centre', and is involved with prison education and the education and support of prisoners post-release.

A graduate of the Trinity Access Programme at Trinity College Dublin, Niall holds a Degree in Social Science from Maynooth University, a Postgraduate Diploma in Adult and Community Education from Maynooth University, a Postgraduate Diploma in Education Management from Maynooth University and a Masters in Criminology from Dublin Institute of Technology. Niall is a founding member of the Prisoner Support Network and a member of the Irish Prison Service Research Panel.

Niall serves both on the board of directors of the Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) and also on the board of The Irish Association for the Social Integration of Offenders, (IASIO).

Our Research

Prisons: the rule of law, accountability and rights (PRILA) examines accountability, the inspection and oversight of prisons. It seeks to provide an understanding of how inspection, oversight and accountability operates from the point of view of prison staff, people in prison, and staff of accountability bodies. PRILA uses legal and socio-legal research methods to understand how inspection, oversight and accountability is regulated and experienced, as well as its effects.

PRILA’s research questions:

PRILA will help us to understand:

  • How prisoners experience accountability structures, and rights;
  • How prison managers and prison officers/guards experience monitoring and external scrutiny;
  • How staff of bodies like Ombudsmen and inspectorates experience their work, and challenges in their work;
  • How a visit from an inspection and monitoring body is experienced;
  • What kinds of accountability structures exist in European prisons;
  • How types of accountability structures are related to other indicators of penal regimes, such as prison overcrowding; and
  • Whether there is a distinctive European way for accountability in prisons, by comparing European law with that of the United States and other jurisdictions.
  • Methods:

    There are five substantive work packages planned for the course of the project. The project runs from April 2016 to the end of March 2021.

  • PRILA will conduct legal and comparative analysis with the United States and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights to assess the requirements and distinctiveness of European law (Work Package (WP) 1). It will use this to inform the interview guides and design of the quantitative work.
  • Under Prisoners' Experiences (WP2), the research team will examine and compare prisoners' experiences of accountability, inspection and oversight in Ireland and another European country. Sophie van der Valk is working with Prof Rogan on this part of the research in Ireland, while Dr Christine Morgenstern will work on the German situation.
  • Under Experiencing Scrutiny (WP3), the research team will examine the experiences of prison staff of accountability, inspection and oversight. Sarah Curristan and Ray O'Keeffe are working with Prof Rogan on this part of the research on the Irish dimension of the work, with Dr Christine Morgenstern examining Germany.
  • Under Accountability Work (WP4), Dr Eva Aizpurua and Prof Rogan will examine the typology of systems, the effects of accountability, inspection and oversight. The research team will also examine how staff of accountability bodies experience their work.
  • In Experiencing Inspection (WP5), Dr Ciara O'Connell and Prof Rogan will examine experiences of a visit from an international monitoring body.

  • The European Survey on Prison Oversight Bodies

    The PRILA Irish Prison Service Staff Survey in Ireland

    Staff members of the Irish Prison Service were invited to participate in the PRILA staff survey. The purpose of the survey is to explore staff attitudes to prison work, and their experiences of prison inspection, prisoner complaints, and legal action against the Prison Service. This survey is being led by Sarah Curristan and Dr. Mary Rogan, and has been developed in consultation with experts in the field.

    Staff of all grades are eligible to participate. As of June 18th, all staff members will have received an email invitation to participate in the PRILA staff survey. The survey was open from Tuesday 18th June until Sunday, 14th July . The survey takes approximately 20 minutes to complete.

    If you have any queries regarding this survey study or the PRILA project, please contact Sarah Curristan at

    The European Survey on Prison Oversight Bodies

    European Union (EU) Member States were invited to participate in the first survey on prison oversight bodies. The primary purpose of this data collection effort is to better understand the structures for dealing with inspection of prisons across the EU.

    The online survey opened on 28th January 2019 was available for 60 days. NPMs and other oversight bodies should have received an email from with an invitation and survey link.

    The European Survey on Prison Oversight Bodies (ESPO) is the first cross-national survey on prison oversight bodies. Its main objective is to gather updated and comparable information on the structures for dealing with the inspection of prisons across the European Union. The survey is directed by Dr Mary Rogan and Dr Eva Aizpurua, at Trinity College Dublin, as part of the PRILA project.

    News and Events

    Postdoctoral Researcher Position - Application deadline 27 September 2023

    The School of Law, Trinity College Dublin, invites applications for a prestigious European Research Council-funded post for a postdoctoral research fellow. This role will be of interest to graduates of social sciences, socio-legal studies, law (particularly human rights law), and psychology (and related disciplines), with skills in empirical research.

    POIRE (Prison Oversight: Improving Rights in Europe) is a research project funded by the European Research Council’s Proof of Concept Scheme. The postdoctoral research fellow will work on a ground-breaking study on the protection of rights in prison through international monitoring. The project seeks to bring research directly to policy and practice with a view to creating a training and support programme for people in prison, prison staff and prison administrators. The researcher will be given support and mentoring to develop their skills and manage their career development. The project and funding ends on June 30th 2025. The proposed start date is January 1 2024.

    The closing date for applications is September 27 2023 at 12pm, IST.

    Standard Duties and Responsibilities of the Post

    POIRE seeks to promote better engagement with the international prison monitoring body the CPT in two European states. POIRE will provide training and support for state officials (prison staff and managers) to respond more effectively to prison monitoring. POIRE will also create a programme to raise awareness amongst people in prison of the CPT and support their engagement with that body. POIRE will identify awareness levels of the CPT, support governments to prepare better response reports to the CPT, promote awareness of and engagement with the CPT and disseminate its findings, with a key focus on making recommendations for policy change. As a Proof of Concept award, POIRE will develop a not-for-profit enterprise to implement its programmes around the world.

    The successful candidate will undertake rigorous research, including the creation of research instruments such as surveys and interview guides and data analysis. The successful candidate will be required to form good and professional relationships with those supporting and taking part in the research, including people in prison, prison staff, senior prison managers and those who work in prison monitoring. The successful candidate will be required to develop training and briefing materials for people in prison, prison staff, prison administrators and prison monitors. The successful candidate will support the development of future entities to continue POIRE’s training and support programmes.

    The successful candidate will also be expected to actively contribute to the following activities:

    • Presenting work to academic and non-academic audiences;
    • Organising workshops and seminars;
    • Liaising and maintaining positive relations with relevant parties;
    • Undertaking all necessary reporting;
    • Attending all project meetings.


    Applicants must hold a PhD in in law, social sciences, criminology, psychology, political science or a related discipline.

    Knowledge & Experience

    The successful candidate will have the following knowledge and experience:


    • Demonstrable experience of independent research
    • Track record of sharing findings commensurate with career stage
    • Experience of, and commitment to, disseminating findings beyond academic outlets, for example through policy engagement, briefing papers, or submissions to national or international bodies
    • Experience of organising workshops


    • Experience of developing training/support materials or consultancy
    • Experience of training others
    • Experience of evaluation
    • Knowledge or practice experience of working with people in detention/in settings where human rights may be at risk and/or with senior officials and administrators
    • Experience of making applications for ethical approval

    Skills & Compentencies

    The successful candidate will have:


    • Highly developed skills of qualitative research
    • Excellent oral and written academic skills and a commitment to publishing high-quality research
    • Excellent inter-personal skills and ability to work with a wide variety of partners to ensure a successful research project
    • High levels of commitment and self-motivation
    • Excellent ability to manage research projects
    • Excellent time management skills
    • Willingness and ability to travel within Europe as required
    • English language certification if English is not the first language, the required being: IELTS: 7.0+, TOEFL iBT: 100+, TOEFL pBT: 600+, CEF: C1+, or equivalent.


    • Skills in quantitative research
    • High levels of competence in a language other than English which is used by the CPT
    • Skills in using quantitative research methods software packages
    • Skills in evaluation
    • Skills in training/support/consultancy

    Further Information for Applicants

    Informal enquiries can be sent to Dr. Mary Rogan via email

    Application Procedure

    Applicants should submit a single document including a full Curriculum Vitae detailing qualifications and experience to include the names and contact details of 3 referees (including email addresses), and a cover letter that specifically addresses the application procedure set out above by the deadline of 27th September 2023. Interviews will take place in Dublin or via Zoom shortly thereafter. Appointment will be effective as soon as possible after the end of the interview process, with an ideal start date of January 1 2024. All applicants must possess the necessary immigration requirements allowing them to study in Ireland and travel within the European Union.

    • Applications will only be accepted to this email address:
    • If you have application queires, please contact Dr. Mary Rogan, Trinity College Dublin, the Universoty of Dublin by telephone: +353 1 8964271, or by email

    PRILA publishes findings from the first survey of prison oversight bodies in the EU+UK

    Dr. Eva Aizpurua and Dr. Mary Rogan have published findings from the first EU+UK-wide study of NPMs and other prison oversight bodies in Punishment and Society.

    "Merits of a Civil Law System: Lessons from Germany" - Dr Christne Morgenstern

    Dr Christine Morgenstern spoke at an online event on "Merits of a Civil Law System: Lessons from Germany" organised by TCD's Germanic Society and Free Legal Advice Clinic (FLAC), highlighting benefits and problems of the complaints procedures foreseen by German prison legislation. The video can be found here.

    Prisons: The Rule of Law, Accountability, and Rights. A one-day Virtual Conference exploring Prison Oversight 26 November 2020

    Prisons: The Rule of Law, Accountability and Rights (PRILA) is a project, funded by the European Research Council, which explores prison oversight. It pays particular attention to prison inspection and monitoring, complaints systems, and access to the courts. PRILA examines the legal frameworks for prison oversight, the structures for oversight which exist in Europe, and the lived experiences of people in prison, prison staff, and staff of oversight bodies of such work.

    PRILA is hosting a one-day virtual conference, on Thursday, November 26 2020, which will bring together scholars, practitioners, people with lived experience, NGOs, policymakers, and oversight bodies to explore key issues in prison oversight. Drawing on qualitative and quantitative work conducted across Europe, the conference will provide an opportunity to discuss PRILA’s research findings. For more information on the virtual conference please see here.

    Webinar Recordings

    PRILA publishes in European Journal of Criminology Special Issue on Human Rights in Prison

    Sophie van der Valk, PhD candidate and Prof Mary Rogan, project PI have published a piece entitled ‘Experiencing human rights protections in prisons: The case of prison monitoring in Ireland’ in a special issue of the European Journal of Criminology. The piece draws on the interviews conducted by Sophie with prisoners in Ireland on their experiences of oversight in Irish prisons. The article finds evidence of a lack of awareness of, and a deficit of trust in, monitoring. However, this picture is complex, with people in prison also viewing the concept of monitoring as a good way to protect rights, believing that the visibility of monitors, clarity in their role and powers, and ensuring that a variety of voices are heard by monitoring bodies are important elements of a good system of prison oversight. The article is available online and is an open access article.

    The article can be read here.

    PRILA Briefing Papers

    Briefing Paper 1: A Visit from the Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) - Research in Midlands Prison, September 2019.

    Briefing Paper 2: Oversight in Irish Prisons: Prisoner Perspectives on Oversight of Irish Prisons – Briefing Papers Shared with Prisoners in Ireland.

    Briefing Paper 3: Experiencing Oversight: Prison Staff’s Experience of Inspection and Complaints.

    PRILA team hosts ‘PRILA: Oversight & Irish Prisons’ online research seminar for staff at the Irish Prison Service

    On Wednesday November 5th, the PRILA research team hosted the online event ‘PRILA: Oversight & Irish Prisons’. This research seminar shared key findings from the PRILA research project with staff at the Irish Prison Service.

    Sophie van der Valk presented ‘Prisoner Perspectives on Prison Inspection and Complaints’ which highlighted the low awareness of oversight bodies among prisoners. Sarah Curristan’s presentation, entitled, ‘Staff Perspectives on Prison Inspection and Prisoner Complaints’ described staff’s attitudes and experiences of engaging with the Office of the Inspector of Prisons and the prisoner complaints system. Finally, Dr Ciara O’Connell presented ‘Experiencing a Visit from the CPT to an Irish Prison’ which detailed lessons learned from observing visit by the Committee for the Prevention of Torture to Ireland.

    A recording of the event has been shared with the Irish Prison Service for those who could not attend on the day. Additionally, briefing papers summarising the key findings on the three studies above have been made available at the prisons that hosted the research.

    The PRILA team would like to thank staff at the Irish Prison Service for facilitating and assisting with our research over the past few years. In particular, we would like to say a special thank you to those who contributed to and participated in this research.

    PRILA at the European Society of Criminology e-conference 2020

    Sophie van der Valk, Sarah Curristan and Christine Morgenstern presented in a panel on “Complaints, Rights and Oversight Bodies”, hosted by the European Society of Criminology Working Group on Prison Life and Effects of Imprisonment. Sophie discussed ‘Patterns and correlates of familiarity with prison oversight bodies among prisoners’, which outlined degrees of familiarity among different groups within the prison population of oversight bodies. Sarah explored ‘The power of prisoner complaint’ as perceived by senior staff’ and Christine looked at ‘Rules, rights and ethics in prisons as perceived by Senior Staff’ in German prisons.

    More details

    PRILA team presents at the launch of the Office of the Inspector of Prisons’ Inspection Framework for Prisons in Ireland

    On 15th September 2020, the Office of the Inspector of Prisons in Ireland launched its new Inspection Framework. The Framework sets out how the Office of the Inspector of Prisons will conduct inspections in Irish prisons and marks an important move towards greater transparency in the work of the office. The event, which was held online, was attended by members of the Office of the Inspector of Prisons, the Irish Prison Service and the Department of Justice.

    The Framework was officially launched by Minister for Justice and Equality, Helen McEntee. Following this, Professor Shane Kilcommins, from the University Limerick School of Law, provided an overview on the role of decision making and the rule of law as it underpins the importance of the Framework. The Inspection Framework for Prisons in Ireland was then introduced in more depth by Chief Inspector of Prisons, Patricia Gilheaney. A response to the new Inspection Framework was provided by Caron McCaffrey, Director General of the Irish Prison Service.

    From the PRILA team, Sophie van der Valk, Sarah Curristan, and Dr. Ciara O'Connell presented research findings focused on accountability and oversight in the context of Irish prisons. Sophie provided an account of prisoner ‘Familiarity with Prison Oversight Bodies,’ which highlighted current low levels of awareness and limited engagement with the Inspector of Prisons. This presentation noted the importance of increasing visibility of the Office of the Inspector of Prisons within the prison to encourage more understanding amongst prisoners about its role. Sarah’s presentation, entitled, ‘Perceptions of Oversight Through Inspection Among Senior Prison Staff’, described current attitudes of senior staff towards inspection, which resonated with the inclusion of greater staff engagement within the Inspection Framework. Finally, Ciara presented PRILA research on ‘International Oversight: Lessons from a CPT Visit to an Irish Prison.’ This presentation introduced staff and prisoner perceptions of a recent visit from the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT), and identified challenges associated with awareness levels, the oversight engagement process and scepticism around the impact of oversight. Ciara drew from this research to offer strategies for improving inspection carried out by national inspection bodies, such as the Office of the Inspector of Prisons.

    The PRILA project, which is led by Professor Mary Rogan, recognises the importance of strong, effective and transparent oversight structures and procedures in the context of prisons. The PRILA team is appreciative of the opportunity to participate in the launch of the Framework, and welcomes the introduction and adoption of the Inspection Framework for Prisons in Ireland by the Office of the Inspector of Prisons.

    PRILA presentation materials can be downloaded here:

    The Inspection Framework for Prisons in Ireland can be downloaded HERE.

    Prisons: The Rule of Law, Accountability, and Rights. A one-day Virtual Conference exploring Prison Oversight

    Prisons: The Rule of Law, Accountability and Rights (PRILA) is a project, funded by the European Research Council, which explores prison oversight. It pays particular attention to prison inspection and monitoring, complaints systems, and access to the courts. PRILA examines the legal frameworks for prison oversight, the structures for oversight which exist in Europe, and the lived experiences of people in prison, prison staff, and staff of oversight bodies of such work.

    PRILA is hosting a one-day virtual conference, on Thursday, November 26 2020, which will bring together scholars, practitioners, people with lived experience, NGOs, policymakers, and oversight bodies to explore key issues in prison oversight. Drawing on qualitative and quantitative work conducted across Europe, the conference will provide an opportunity to discuss PRILA’s research findings. For more information on the virtual conference please see here.

    Rights and Recommendations: Prison Perspectives on the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture’ - Briefing Papers Shared with Prisons in Norway and Scotland.

    The PRILA project’s Dr. Ciara O’Connell, carried out research in Romerike (Ullersmo) Prison Norway andHMP Edinburgh, Scotland in 2019 to explore how people who live and work in prison experience oversight by a long-standing European monitoring body, the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture. While the CPT has visited prisons across Europe to examine treatment and conditions formore than thirty years, this is the first effort to ask prisoners and prison staff about CPT recommendations and the value of CPT oversight. Findings reveal that prisoners value CPT oversight, but that prisoners and prison staff are not always in agreement with CPT recommendations. In fact, it may be the case in some situations that government disagreement with the CPT better reflects the prison perspective (eg. individual risk assessment and strip searches in Norway).

    In an effort to share the findings with prisoners and prison staff, the “Rights and Recommendations: Prison Perspective on the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture” briefing paper was shared with the prisons this past week. While the original intention was to return to the prisons to hold workshops and discuss the findings, the circumstances with COVID-19 required a new approach. Alongside the briefing paper, Dr. O’Connell also coordinated with HMP Edinburgh to prepare a video presentation of the research, which is currently being shared via the in-cell channel - allowing for more people to learn about the research and the CPT.

    Download the Briefing Paper

    If you would like to get in touch please email, ciara.oconnell at

    The PRILA project will also shortly be sharing briefing papers with prisons in Ireland that participated in field work in 2018 and 2019.

    Prila Update

    Prison inspection and monitoring bodies are becoming central players in European Arrest Warrant (EAW) decision-making. These bodies write reports on prison conditions and examine their compliance with fundamental rights. Now that poor prison conditions can be a basis to refuse an EAW’s execution, these bodies are becoming increasingly important actors in EAW decision-making process. While this is so, there is a remarkable lack of analysis on the legal structures and activities of such bodies. This article addresses this absence by presenting findings from the first EU-wide study of prison inspection and monitoring bodies, providing new insights into the nature of these bodies.

    Dr. Eva Aizpurua appointed Associate Editor for Survey Practice

    Dr. Eva Aizpurua, Research Fellow for the PRILA Project, has been appointed Associate Editor for Survey Practice, the e-journal published by the American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR). Survey Practice provides a forum to share advances in practical survey methods and current information on conditions affecting survey research. More information about this open-access journal and all its content can be accessed here

    PRILA hosts workshop on Prison Oversight in International and National Contexts

    The PRILA project hosted the Prison Oversight in International and National Contexts: Dynamics, Dilemmas and Opportunities online workshop on April 2nd 2020. The workshop brought together experts in the field of prison oversight to discuss and reflect upon PRILA research findings. PRILA presentations focused on a number of thematic areas, which included:

  • Prison Perspectives on the CPT (Ciara O’Connell): Based on field research conducted in Norway, Scotland and Ireland, this presentation shared how prisoners and prisoner staff experience, are aware of, and value the oversight function of the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT).
  • Recommendations-making by Prison Oversight Bodies in the EU (Eva Aizpurua): This presentation examined one of the central tasks of NPMs and prison oversight bodies: the making of recommendations. Findings were based on data from the first EU-wide survey of prison oversight bodies, with responses from all Member States.
  • Prison Perspectives on Oversight (Mary Rogan): This presentation examined prisoner perceptions and awareness of national prison inspection, and also prison and penal administrator experiences of a CPT visit to Ireland.
  • The final session, Oversight Best Practice - Discussion on PRILA Recommendations, provided an opportunity for participants to share feedback on prison monitoring processes, recommendation design and dissemination, monitoring of recommendations and ensuring transparency and credibility in prison oversight.

    The PRILA team wishes to thank all of the workshop participants (listed below). The team will soon be amending the Oversight Best Practice recommendations to reflect the workshop discussions.

    For more information about the workshop, please feel free to get in touch at prila at

    Workshop Participants:

  • Dr. Christine Bicknell, Senior Lecturer, University of Exeter
  • Dr. Ian Cameron, Inspector, Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland
  • Helen Casey, Principal Officer, Office of the Inspector of Prisons, Ireland
  • Hugh Chetwynd, Head of Division, European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT)
  • Carmen Comas-Mata Mira, Member, Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture (SPT)
  • Professor Sir Malcolm Evans, Chair, Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture (SPT)
  • Patricia Gilheaney, Inspector, Office of the Inspector of Prisons, Ireland
  • Julia Kozma, Member, European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT)
  • Michelle Martyn, Senior Research and Policy Project Manager, Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT)
  • Mary Angela Murphy, Detention Adviser, International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)
  • Fíona Ní Chinnéide, Executive Director, Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT)
  • Dr. Elina Steinerte, Research Associate, University of Bristol
  • Anica Tomšić Stojkovska, Advise, Croatian NPM
  • PRILA Team : Dr. Mary Rogan, Dr. Ciara O'Connell, Dr Eva Aizpurua, Dr Christine Morgenstern, Sarah Curristan, Sophie van der Valk, Orliath Rice, Amy Walsh.

    'PRILA PhD researcher wins prestigious bursaries to fund conference attendance’.

    Sophie van der Valk, a PhD candidate on the PRILA team has been awarded a bursary to attend The Howard League for Penal Reform Conference on ‘Crime, Justice and Social Harms’, which was due to take place in Keble College, Oxford on 31st March and 1st April 2020. This has been postponed until 23rd – 24th March 2021 in light of the current COVID-19 circumstances. Dr Ciara O’Connell and Sophie van der Valk will present on the topic of ‘Preventing Harm in Prison: Prisoner Perspectives on the Role of International Prison Oversight’. Sophie has also been awarded a scholarship to participate in the Law and Society Association Graduate Student and Early Career Workshop, ‘Finding Your Footing, Building Your Standing, and Challenging What’s Expected’ in advance of the Annual Meeting which was due to take place in Denver. Out of nearly 350 applicants received for the workshop, 50 participants were selected. The workshop brings together a diverse group of scholars with empirically driven and theoretically rich interests in law and society, with the aim of providing a platform for small group discussions and interrogation of papers submitted, as well as a chance to network and socialise. The workshop, along with the Annual Meeting have been moved online in light of the Covid-19 outbreak and related travel restrictions.

    The Experience of an Erasmus Traineeship with the Prila Team - Laura Martín Santiago

    I joined the PRILA team on the 1st October for an Erasmus traineeship. During my months as an intern with the PRILA team I had the opportunity to put into practice the knowledge and skills I acquired during my university degree in Law, as well as transferring it to other sectors such as the field of Social Sciences. As part of my internship I carried out a variety of tasks to help the team prepare for prison fieldwork and analysing of the data. These included conducting literature reviews on topics such as survey research, prisoner complaints and prison oversight bodies, preparing materials for survey distribution, assisting in the development of a codebook for survey data entry and entering the data for two self-administered surveys using Excel (n = 500). Other tasks included material preparation and data entry for multiple expert reviews, and data visualization. This opportunity has helped develop my skills both on a team and personally. Having worked with an international team far from my home country (Spain), with all that this implies, has made me leave my comfort zone and face new challenges almost every day. Not only have I acquired knowledge at a theoretical level, but the experience also enhanced my discipline, responsibility and perseverance needed to perform the tasks assigned to me. Working with the PRILA team encouraged my development, where I could appreciate the value of knowledge, effort and the spirit of improvement, through an open and welcoming environment. In short, I believe that this experience has been fundamental in providing excellent training in my research skills and understanding of empirical research, as well as being a milestone on my path towards a solid and productive career.

    From the PRILA team, we are very grateful for the support that Laura has provided to our project. She has been an invaluable member of the team, participating in multiple stages of the research cycle including literature reviews, data collection, and dissemination of our results, with great motivation and contributing to the internationalisation of our project. We are also very grateful to the Erasmus program, which has made this experience possible.

    Multiple Heads are Better Than One: Expert Reviews as a Pretesting Method in Cross-Cultural Research.

    PRILA work presented at workshop on EU Law and Detention Standards, University of Cambridge - Tuesday, 17 September 2019

    Mary Rogan presented PRILA research on the role of prison inspection and monitoring bodies in European Arrest Warrant decision-making at an invitation-only workshop on ‘What Role for the EU as a Setter of Human Rights Standards in the Field of Detention’ on 17 September at Fitzwilliam College, University of Cambridge.

    The workshop, organised by Dr Irene Wieczorek, University of Durham, Prof Nicky Padfield, University of Cambridge and Prof Anne Weyembergh, Université Libre de Bruxelles, took place over two days and discussed issues such as the harmonisation of fundamental rights in EU and ECHR law and mutual recognition, fundamental rights and detention conditions. Mary Rogan presented work on the legal standards which govern prison inspection and monitoring bodies, and their potential role in EAW cases following the Aranyosi and Căldăraru decision. She also presented work on the need for improved European standards on prison inspection and monitoring bodies. The papers on which the presentation was based, and the presentation itself, can be found here on Prof. Rogan's research profile page

    PRILA team presents work with Prof Michele Deitch

    Eva Aizpurua presenting the PRILA findings at a recent presentation.

    Professor Michele Deitch joined with the PRILA Research team to present findings from studies on oversight mechanisms for prisons in the USA and the EU. Prof Deitch presented recent work detailing an inventory of prison oversight mechanisms in the United States and the PRILA team presented work on the nature of prison oversight in the EU28, as well as prisoners' and staff's experiences of prison inspection.

    Sarah Curristan

    Trinity Week 2019: ‘Filling the Silence: Prisons as a Silent Institution’

    The theme for this year’s Trinity Week was ‘Silence’, a theme that very much resonated with our ongoing research on the PRILA project. Within the prison literature, prison is very often characterised as a closed institution and one that lies outside public awareness. Little is known about public attitudes to prison or what the public thinks prison life is like. To explore this topic, we developed a survey for distribution among the college community with the help of the Irish Prison Service, the Irish Penal Reform Trust, and Pathways. The aim of the survey was to explore the college community’s perceptions of prisons in Irish society and their attitudes to prison as a form of punishment.

    The response to the survey was positive, with 1,302 respondents making up our final respondent group for analysis. The main findings of the survey were shared at ‘Filling the Silence: Prisons as a Silent Institution’ a public event held on May 3rd as part of Trinity Week.

    In general, our respondents had a tendency to overestimate the demographic make-up and characteristics of the Irish prison population. For example, there was a tendency to overestimate the overall numbers in custody, the proportion of female prisoners, or the numbers of offenders within certain age categories. We have published the actual figures below, which are correct as of the public data available in March 2019. In relation to attitudes to imprisonment, our respondents’ attitudes were largely nonpunitive with the majority showing agreement with the provision of prisoner support, community-based programmes, and drug recovery programmes. The effectiveness of prison as a form of deterrence was largely disagreed with, and the majority of participants agreed that offenders could change if offered the right support. The key findings of the survey have been summarised in the information sheet.

    The PRILA team is delighted to welcome Dr Ciara O'Connell, Dr Christine Morgenstern and Dr Eva Aizpurua.

    Dr O'Connell will examine the effects and experiences of a visit from an international prison monitoring body. Dr Morgenstern will examine experiences of oversight in German prisons, while Dr Aizpurua will examine the effects of oversight on prison outcomes as well as experiences of doing accountability work. You can follow the progress of their work, as well as that of the rest of the PRILA team, on this website and through @prila_tcd

    Ciara O’Connell is a human rights researcher with experience employing socio-legal research methods to examine how international human rights treaty-monitoring bodies impact the lives of vulnerable populations. She holds a PhD in Law from the University of Sussex (UK), and an LLM in International Human Rights Law from the Irish Centre for Human Rights. Most recently, she held a Postdoctoral Research Fellowship with the Centre for Human Rights in South Africa, and also worked for UNODC researching the nexus between organised crime and terrorism.

    Ciara’s previous research included gendered analysis of judgments and reparations emerging from the Inter-American and African regional human rights systems. Instrumental to this research were interviews she conducted across four Latin American countries to understand how actors involved in human rights litigation and implementation account for and respond to the different needs of different women. Her research can be found in publications such as Health and Human Rights, International Human Rights of Women (Springer, 2019) and the International Journal of Gynecology and Obstetrics.

    Eva Aizpurua earned her PhD in Criminology from the University of Castilla-La Mancha (Spain, 2016) and worked as a postdoctoral scholar al the University of Northern Iowa (USA, 2016-2018). Her main research interests include interpersonal violence, life in prison, and survey research methods.

    Christine Morgenstern works at the intersection between penal law, human rights and criminology. She studied law in Freiburg, Hamburg and San Sebastian. Her PhD thesis on international human rights standards for community sanctions and measures was published in 2002. She has been working as lecturer and research fellow for criminology and criminal law at the University of Greifswald for many years. She has been a visiting professor at the Free University Berlin and at the University Göttingen in 2017 and 2018.

    2012-2016 she was awarded a grant from the German Research Council to conduct a study on pre-trial detention in Europe. It was published in 2018 and earned her the German postdoctoral lecture qualification (Habilitation). Empirical follow-up research on pre-trial detention comparing law, practice and policies in seven European states (including Ireland and Germany) was funded by the European Commission 2017-2018.

    Christine’s research interests include penal theory, sentencing, law and practice of community sanctions and prison life. She is particularly keen on covering comparative and European aspects of these topics and contributing not only to European research but also to European Penal Policies.

    PRILA Post-Doctoral Research Fellow Position (Now closed)

    The School of Law, Trinity College Dublin, invites applications for a prestigious European Research Council-funded Post-Doctoral Research Fellow position. This role will be of interest to graduates of social sciences, socio-legal studies, law (particularly human rights law), political science and psychology (and related disciplines), with skills in empirical research. The deadline for receipt of applications is 27 June 2018 at 5 pm IST.

    PRILA Consultative Council meets on 15 June 2018

    Members of the Consultative Council to the PRILA project met at Trinity College Dublin on Friday, June 15th 2018. Members of the PRILA team presented their progress to date and the Council and team discussed matters such as the best environment for the oversight of prisons, prison culture and the role of scrutiny, and disseminating findings to prison staff and management. The Consultative Council comprises experts in penology, prison administration, education, and inspection and monitoring and provides guidance and advice to the team on the project. The PRILA team is very grateful for its work.

    Top Row, left to right: Sophie van der Valk, Christine Morgenstern, Ray O’Keeffe, Kitty Calavita, Jim Mitchell, Ian Cameron, Hugh Chetwynd. Front Row, left to right: Mary Rogan, Sarah Curristan, Niall Walsh, Valerie Jenness

    Prof. Mary Rogan speaks on Mandela Day about human rights in prisons and the role of inspection and monitoring

    On July 18th 2018, Mandela Day, Mary Rogan presented at the Global Brain Health Institute on human rights in prisons and the international human rights framework governing inspection and monitoring. When the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners were revised in 2015, they were renamed the Mandela Rules. Mandela Day was also extended to promote humane conditions of imprisonment and to value the work of prison staff. The Mandela Rules have substantially revised the UN position on the inspection and oversight of prisons.

    Prof. Mary Rogan to speak at HeadSpace2018 at Trinity College Dublin

    HeadSpace2018 was a two-day celebration of scientific and creative investigation into brain health and dementia, taking place on April 27 and April 28 at Trinity College Dublin. Mary Rogan presented work on the ageing process and the effects of incarceration, assessing inspection and monitoring as key mechanisms of protection in these environments.

    Prof Mary Rogan examines the penal policymaking process in an opinion piece in the Irish Independent, 28 March 2018

    'We have a rare window to reform justice system'

    PRILA Submits OPCAT Protocols to the Department of Justice and Equality

    The PRILA team responded to a request in March 2018 from the Department of Justice and Equality for their submission on potential models under OPCAT. See also the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention Against Torture.

    Principal Investigator, Mary Rogan, discusses penal policymaking on RTE's Drivetime on 21 February 2018.

    Skip to 1 hour 15 mins in to hear what Mary had to say.

    PRILA mentioned in Oireachtas debate on the ratification of OPCAT 8th February 2018

    Minister Charlie Flanagan T.D. referred to submissions made by the PRILA research team when discussing the planned implementation of OPCAT in the Dáil on 8th February 2018, in response to question 161

    Principal Investigator chairs the Irish Penal Reform Trust's launch of a Report on Solitary Confinement

    The Irish Penal Reform Trust launched research the use of solitary confinement and restricted regimes in Ireland in the Hilton Kilmainham on 2 February 2018.

    Chaired by Professor Mary Rogan, other contributors included: Dr Agnieszka Martynowicz and Dr Linda Moore, authors of the research; Professor Barry Goldson; University of Liverpool; Michael O’Neill, Head of Legal Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission; Martin Smyth, Director of Operations, Irish Prison Service; Clare Daly, T.D.; and Professor Ian O’Donnell, UCD.

    PRILA research presented to the Council of Europe body, the Council for Penological Cooperation on 8 November 2017

    Professor Mary Rogan, PI on the PRILA project, presented the PRILA team's research on inspection and monitoring of prisons to the Plenary Meeting of the Council for Penological Cooperation on November 7 2017, a Council of Europe body which is an advisory body to the Steering Committee on Crime Problems. Prof Rogan presented recommendations arising from the PRILA project on how the commentary to the European Prison Rules could be revised and strengthened in the areas of inspection and monitoring.

    Workshop: Dr. Kate O'Hara

    On 20 September 2017, Dr. Kate O'Hara presented a workshop on "Interviewing CJS participants: challenges and strategies" to the PRILA team in preparation for forthcoming data gathering.

    Public Lecture: Professor Jules Lobel, University of Pittsburgh

    Solitary Confinement and the Role of the Courts in the USA and Ireland was hosted on Monday 18th September 2017.

    Solitary confinement is under increasing scrutiny by international human rights bodies, penal policymakers, medical professionals, lawyers and the courts. The seminar considered how the courts have acted to regulate the use of solitary confinement in the prisons of the United States and Ireland.

    Presentation: Dr. Colette Barry

    On 7th September 2017 Collette Barry made a very informative and practical presentation to the group entitled “Researching Irish Prisons; Reflections from a Recent PhD”. The PRILA team had the opportunity to ask questions and discuss practical aspects of methodologies.

    PRILA Participation in Conference and Events

    Recent arising from PRILA topics has been presented at the following conferences:

    Sarah Curristan, Ray O'Keeffe, Sophie van der Valk and Mary Rogan, Panel presentation, Irish Criminology Conference, September 2018

    Prof Mary Rogan, Human rights in prison: promise and performance, Global Brain Health Initiative, Dublin, July 2018

    Prof Mary Rogan was a panellist at Behind the Headlines - the Future of Policing on 21 February 2018. The lectures are available to hear from the Trinity Long Room Hub.

    Prof. Mary Rogan spoke at the Probation Service of Northern Ireland Conference Justice in Transition on 15th March 2018.

    Mary Rogan, Inspection and monitoring of prisons, Ethics of Vulnerability Conference, UCD Centre for Ethics in Public Life, November 2017

    Mary Rogan, Revision of the commentary to the European Prison Rules: inspection and monitoring, Council for Penological Cooperation, Strasbourg, Council of Europe, November 2017

    Mary Rogan, European Human Rights Law and Death in Prison - Obligations & Reforms, Death in Punishment, Sheffield, 25 & 26 October 2017

    Mary Rogan, The evolving role of imprisonment in Ireland, Law Society Annual Human Rights Conference, Dublin, Law Society, October 2017

    Mary Rogan, Landmarks in Irish penal history, Parnell Summer School, Avondale, Co. Wicklow, Ireland, August 2017

    Mary Rogan, Sarah Curristan, Ray O'Keefe, Sophie van der Valk , Submission on the Proposed Inspectorate for Places of Detention, May 2017

    Mary Rogan, Sarah Curristan, Ray O'Keefe, Sophie van der Valk, Submission from PRILA to the Irish Prison Service on the Code of Ethical Behaviours, Ireland, 2017


    Conference papers and articles relating to PRILA's research can be found at:

  • Professor Mary Rogan’s profile page
  • PRILA Blog
  • Mary Rogan's Blog
  • The role of internal inspections in protecting human rights in prison, by Professor Mary Rogan - Penal Reform International Blog. This post examines the international human rights standards which govern internal prison inspections and the need for us to learn more about how these bodies can contribute to the promotion of human rights.
  • Mary Rogan and Sophie van der Valk, Ireland and OPCAT six years on: have things changed? 2017 URL

  • Discerning Penal Values and Judicial Decision Making: The Case of Whole Life Sentencing in Europe and the United States of America by Prof Mary Rogan in the Howard Journal of Crime and Justice

  • Human rights approaches to suicide in prison: implications for policy, practice and research by Prof Mary Rogan in the Howard Journal of Crime and Justice

  • Contact PRILA

    Conference papers and articles relating to PRILA's research can be found at:

    Prisons: the Rule of Law, Accountability and Rights (PRILA)

    TriSS; Trinity Research in Social Science,

    Room 6001, Arts Building,

    Trinity College Dublin,

    The University of Dublin

    Dublin 2

    Ireland E: prila[at] Twitter: @prila_tcd This project has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No [679362]