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Home > The geography of prisoner reintegration.

Donovan, Anne Marie (2008) The geography of prisoner reintegration. Drugnet Ireland , Issue 28, Winter 2008 , pp. 18-19.

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The geographical distribution of prisoners released in 2004 has been mapped to ‘set out what is known about the community contexts from which prisoners are drawn and to which they will likely return’.1 The research team, led by UCD Professor of Criminology Ian O’ Donnell, used data from the Irish Prison Service’s new computer-based records system (PRIS) to track and map the known addresses of 5,057 prisoners (out of a possible 5,588) who were released in 2004.

 The method of mapping
The known addresses of released prisoners were coded to the appropriate electoral division (ED) and these divisions were assigned a social deprivation rating according to a deprivation index.2 This index was computed using census data relating to unemployment, car ownership, overcrowding, local authority housing and social class. A further analytic dimension was provided by the calculation of a standardised prisoner ratio for each ED. This is the ratio of the observed number of prisoners in an ED to the expected number given the age and gender profile of the ED population.
Findings of the research
The most deprived areas in the country had 145.9 prisoners per 10,000 population, compared to 6.3 in the least deprived areas. The authors state that ‘the magnitude of this difference is startling and demonstrates unequivocally that it is the areas already marked by serious disadvantage that must bear the brunt of social problems that accompany released prisoners’ (p. 4). Most prisoners came from city areas – 28.6 per 10,000 population overall, compared to 6.3 from rural areas. Thirty-eight per cent of prisoners released in 2004 had Dublin addresses. A number of Dublin suburbs had high standard prisoner ratios for all crime sub-categories, including: Finglas, Ballymun and Darndale on the north side; Fettercairn and Jobstown in Tallaght; Cherry Orchard, Rowlagh, Moorfield, Palmerstown and Mulhuddart in the south west; Summerhill, Ballybough and Sherriff Street in the north inner city; and Dolphin’s Barn, the Coombe and the Liberties in the south inner city. Deprived suburban areas in Cork, Limerick and Galway also had higher prisoner ratios. However, a number of very deprived areas did not have any prisoners, particularly in Donegal, Kerry, Galway and Mayo.
Drugs and deprivation
This study clearly highlights the link between drugs and poverty: in the most deprived areas there were 57.8 prisoners per 10,000 released after serving a sentence for a drug-related crime, compared to 1.8 in the least deprived areas. In terms of the geographic distribution of drug-related crime, Dublin, followed by the mid-west region (Clare, Limerick and North Tipperary) was more likely to have higher numbers of prisoners convicted for drug-related crimes. While the distribution of violent offenders in Dublin was spread evenly between the suburbs and the inner city, prisoners serving a sentence for drug offences and, to a lesser degree, for property offences were more likely to emanate from the inner city than the suburbs.
Meeting the challenge of prisoner recidivism
The high rate of recidivism has been empirically demonstrated – more than 25% of offenders are re-incarcerated within 12 months of release and approximately 50% within four years.3 Mapping the areas that are likely to be home to returning prisoners pinpoints where the challenges are located; the next step is to target these areas with solutions.  
1.   O'Donnell I, Teljeur C, Hughes N, Baumer E and Kelly A (2007) When prisoners go home: punishment, social deprivation and the geography of reintegration. Irish Criminal Law Journal, 17(4): 3–9.
2.   This index was calculated by the Small Area Health Research Unit (SAHRU) in Trinity College Dublin.
3.   O’Donnell I, Baumer E and Hughes N (2008) Recidivism in the Republic of Ireland. Criminology and Criminal Justice, 8(2): 123–146.
Item Type
Publication Type
Irish-related, Open Access, Article
Drug Type
Substances (not alcohol/tobacco)
Intervention Type
Issue Title
Issue 28, Winter 2008
Page Range
pp. 18-19
Health Research Board
Issue 28, Winter 2008
Accession Number
HRB (Available)

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