Prison mental health research wins UCD Impact Case Study Competition

Posted 08 March, 2021

Associate Professor Catherine Cox has been named winner of the UCD 2020 Research Impact Case Study Competition.

Her case study, entitled ‘Out of sight, out of mind: changing public perceptions of the mental health crisis in Irish prisons,’ details the significant impact of her project exploring the history of prisoner health.

The five-year project is funded by a Wellcome Trust Senior Investigator Award and led by co-Principal Investigators Associate Professor Cox and Professor Hilary Marland from University of Warwick.

The research identified long-standing neglect of people with mental illness in Irish prisons.

Working with partners in the arts sector, she co-devised a series of events that communicated these challenging histories, changing perceptions of prisoners’ right to psychiatric services and contributing to the wellbeing of prisoners and ex-offenders.

Associate Professor Cox is director of UCD Centre for the History of Medicine in Ireland, a senior member of faculty at UCD School of History and leads the Health Medicine and Wellbeing research theme in UCD College of Arts and Humanities.

She said: “Leading and working on the Wellcome Trust Award ‘Prisoners, Medical Care and Entitlement to Health in England and Ireland, 1850-2000’ was hugely rewarding. The team at UCD School of History collaborated with brilliant artists, dedicated advocates and imprisoned people to communicate with large audiences about an important but neglected issue, mental health in the criminal justice system.

“In doing so, we co-created artistic works and exhibitions that were marked by excellence and innovation. Importantly for me, a historian, we put the history of these issues in conversation with our present. I am delighted the achievements that emerged from these collaborations have been recognised by a UCD Research Impact Case Study Award


Commenting on Associate Professor Cox's win, College Principal of UCD College of Arts and Humanities, Professor Sarah Prescott said: "It is really excellent news that Associate Prof. Catherine Cox’s important research project has been recognised today. Her unique interdisciplinary work shines a very important spotlight on perceptions of mental health. The award demonstrates the positive and wide-ranging impact humanities research can have in addressing social justice issues for individuals and broader society.”

Head of UCD School of History Professor William Mulligan said: "Catherine's research on the history of mental health and medical care in prisons lead us, as historians and as citizens, to think anew about prisoners and the fragility of human rights. She has presented history in innovative ways, through exhibitions, art, and theatre, and enriched public debate and understanding about the historical context of contemporary issues concerning prisoners' rights."

The annual UCD Research Impact Case Study Competition encourages researchers, of all disciplines, to write a case study that tells the story of how their work has made a positive difference.

Despite the challenges of the year, UCD Research received more entries than ever before in 2020.

Commenting on the results, Vice-President for Research, Innovation and Impact Professor Orla Feely said: “The volume of entries we received last year is a testament to the high-impact work going on across the university and to our researchers’ dedication to making meaningful contributions to the world. Research at UCD continues to improve health and wellbeing, protect the environment, influence policy, stimulate economic growth, enrich people’s lives, and inspire the next generation.”

There were nine runners-up in the 2020 competition:

Professor Feely added: “I would like to personally congratulate our finalists and to thank them, not only for their hard work on these case studies, but for their commitment to ensuring people benefit from their research.

“I encourage all researchers to consider entering this year’s competition when it launches this spring.” To help researchers think more deeply about their impact and write a compelling impact case study, UCD has developed a new Impact Toolkit website which will also be launched this spring, funded by the Higher Education Authority and produced by UCD Research Analytics and Impact team."

By: Staff Writers, UCD University Relations (with materials from Caroline Byrne, UCD Research and Innovation)