Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Prisoners, Medical Care and Entitlement to Health in England and Ireland, 1850–2000

Prisoner Health Project: Wellcome Trust Senior Investigator Award

A major new research project in the history medicine has just been launched: 'Prisoners, Medical Care and Entitlement to Health in England and Ireland, 1850–2000'. This collaborative, five-year study, funded by a Wellcome Trust Senior Investigator Award, is being led by co-Principal Investigators, Professor Hilary Marland, of the Centre for the History of Medicine, University of Warwick, and Dr. Catherine Cox, Director of the Centre for the History of Medicine in Ireland, University College Dublin.

Strangely, the history of medicine, despite its strong focus on the history of institutions, has neglected the prison as a site of medical treatment. It's great to see that such an ambitious project is going to address this omission. That this is a comparative research project is also exciting; comparative historical analysis, despite its strong tradition in the social sciences and a limited recent resurgence, is long overdue a renewal.

Project aims

The co-Principal Investigators, Catherine and Hilary, are keen for the project's research to resonate with contemporary concerns in the prison service and they aim to tackle historical questions of prisoner health that are still relevant today. For example, they and their team are going to look at the high incidence of mental illness amongst prisoners, the health of women prisoners and the status of prison maternity services, as well as the response to prisoner substance abuse and the impact of HIV/AIDS. All of these topics are still major concerns in the medical management of contemporary prison populations in Ireland and England. 

Late nineteenth-century photographs of
prisoners in Reading Gaol
Berkshire Records Office P/RP1/5/2
Source: Berkshire Family Historian

Scope of project

Each of the different research strands within the project will cover the period from rise of the modern penal system during the mid-nineteenth century up to the present. Fundamental to the project is the comparative analysis of English and Irish prison services and the conceptual basis of prisoners' entitlement to health in both England and Ireland. 

Prisoner health and human rights

The project team is going to address the question of who advocates for prisoners' health, both within and without the prison service. They will also investigate the extent to which prisoners have been seen as entitled to health care and if human rights debates have had any influence on the provision of medical care for prisoners. Another principal area of historical inquiry is going to be the extent to which prison doctors have felt themselves to be constrained by dual and conflicting loyalties to the prison regime and to their prisoner patients. 

Policy workshops and public engagement

Hilary and Catherine have also said that the project is going to engage with policy makers and prison reform organisations, including the Howard League for Penal Reform. With that in mind, they are busily preparing several policy workshops and compiling a list of potential invitees. They also hope to engage with the general public and people working in the area of prisoner welfare through a series of outreach projects. Among the most interesting of these are their plans to commission both a theatrical production and a piece of artwork that will be based on their team's research findings. 

Project members

Dr. Catherine Cox, University College Dublin, Principal Investigator. 

Professor Hilary Marland, University of Warwick, Principal Investigator.

Both Hilary and Catherine are working on the relationship between the prison system and mental illness – a subject of acute contemporary relevance considering the high levels psychiatric morbidity amongst prisoners – and they are also looking at the impact of the prison on prisoner mental health. In addition, Catherine will focus on the evolution of the separate system in Ireland and its impact on mental health while Hilary will examine the question of women and mental health in the prison system.

Dr. Will Murphy, Mater Dei Institute, Dublin City University, is researching the health of political prisoners and the impact they had in shaping attitudes and practices of health and medicine in Irish and English prisons.

Dr. Fiachra Byrne, University College Dublin, Postdoctoral Research Fellow (3 years), is working on the mental health of juvenile prisoners in England and Ireland.

Dr. Nicholas Duvall, University of Warwick (year 1), University College Dublin (year 2), Postdoctoral Fellow (2 years), is going to be supporting Hilary and Catherine in their research and will also develop his own project on the health of prison officers. 

Dr. Margaret Charleroy, University of Warwick, Postdoctoral Research Fellow (3 years), is working on the management of prisoner health, disease and chronic illness.

A further Postdoctoral Fellow, who will be researching the history of HIV/AIDS in prisons under the supervision of Professor Virginia Berridge at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine is slated for appointment later this year (2015).  

Public Engagement Officers, at Warwick and Dublin, will be appointed in late 2015. They will have responsibility with implementing the project's arts and policy initiatives.

In 2016, there will be two PhDs appointed to the project. One, based at UCD, will work on prison reform movements; the other, based at Warwick, will investigate the health of women prisoners.

If you want to find out more about 'Prisoners, Medical Care and Entitlement to Health in England and Ireland, 1850–2000', you can visit the UCD project page or the Warwick project page. The project team have also announced their Advisory Board members and provide a list of recent and upcoming project activities.

For further project details or inquiries, you can contact Hilary by email at or Catherine at

No comments:

Post a comment