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Professor Ian O'Donnell receives US Criminology Book Award

Posted 20 October, 2023

The latest book by Professor Ian O’Donnell has been named the 2023 winner of the Outstanding Book Award, the top literature prize given by the American Society of Criminology’s Division of International Criminology.

The work ‘Prison Life: Pain, Resistance, and Purpose’, published by New York University Press, covers how people in prison organise their lives, drawing on case studies from Africa, Europe, and the US.

It offers a fresh appreciation of how order is maintained, how power is exercised, how days are spent, and how meaning is found in a variety of environments that have different approaches to the same function - incarceration.

The research is based on an unusually diverse range of sources including photographs, drawings, court cases, official reports, memoirs, and site visits.  

Professor O'Donnell observed that: "The research for Prison Life took me to parts of the world I had never visited before and caused me to reflect on issues that I had not previously considered. It was an exciting and fulfilling project and I am thrilled that it has won the Division of International Criminology's 2023 Outstanding Book Award."

The book contrasts the soul-destroying isolation of the federal supermax in Florence, Colorado with the crowded conviviality of an Ethiopian prison where men and women cook their own meals, seek opportunities to generate an income, elect a leadership team, and live according to a code of conduct that they devised and enforce.

It shows how prisoners in Texas took to the courts to overthrow a regime that allowed their routine subjugation by violent men known as building tenders, who had been selected by staff to supervise and discipline their peers.

The work also explores life on the wings controlled by the IRA in Northern Ireland’s H Blocks, where men who saw the actions that led to their incarceration as politically motivated moved as one, in perpetual defiance of the authorities.

In each case study Professor O’Donnell presents the story of an incarcerated individual who was moulded by, and in return moulded, the institution that held him.

The Outstanding Book Award is given to the author(s) of an outstanding original research book published on any topic relating to the broad areas of international or comparative crime or justice.  Professor O'Donnell, who will collect the award at a special luncheon in Philadelphia in November, said "I feel immensely flattered that the Book Award committee has bestowed this honour upon me." 

The DIC is a specialised division of the American Society of Criminology (ASC) founded in 1981 to help foster criminological scholarship and the exchange of ideas among those involved in international criminology.

Its membership is open to educators, researchers, practitioners, and students interested the field of international criminology through the ASC.

As an institution, the ASC is an international organisation whose members pursue scholarly, scientific, and professional knowledge concerning crime and delinquency, and serves as a forum for the dissemination of criminological knowledge.

Ian O'Donnell is the Professor of Criminology at the UCD School of Law and was previously the Director of the UCD Institute of Criminology and the Director of the Irish Penal Reform Trust.

A Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and a Member of the Royal Irish Academy, he has authored many other books, including ‘Justice, Mercy, and Caprice: Clemency and the Death Penalty in Ireland’ and ‘Prisoners, Solitude, and Time’, both published by Oxford University Press.

‘Prison Life’ is available at: https://nyupress.org/9781479816156/prison-life/

By: David Kearns, Digital Journalist / Media Officer, UCD University Relations

To contact the UCD News & Content Team, email: newsdesk@ucd.ie