Killing Time: Life Imprisonment and Parole in Ireland. By Diarmuid Griffin

AuthorMargaret Fitzgerald-O'Reilly
PositionUniversity of Limerick
[2019] Irish Judicial Studies Journal Vol 3
Diarmuid Griffin, Killing Time: Life Imprisonment and Parole in Ireland
(Palgrave Macmillan 2018), ISBN 9783319726663, xv+251p.
Margaret Fitzgerald-O’Reilly, University of Limerick.
Killing Time is a comprehensive empirical examination of the legal and policy frameworks
surrounding life imprisonment and parole in Ireland. While it is acknowledged that there may be
global differences in terms of length of time served and a lack of consensus regarding the
appropriate process of release, what is evident is that life does not always mean life. In Ireland, it
has been observed that ‘there has been a significant increase in the life sentence prisoner
population’ [p.4] over the past number of decades. This book seeks to explore the reason for this
trend, along with the relevant factors affecting parole decisions. As the author notes, the
requirement that life sentence prisoners serve lengthier periods in prison may be ‘reflective of the
global shift towards punitivism’ [p.11] or there may be other factors at play in parole board
decision making.
In Chapter 1, the author coherently acquaints us with the premise of the book and introduces us
to essential themes underpinning the monograph. The trajectory of life sentence committals in
Ireland is explored, along with issues pertaining to risk and actuarialism in managerial processes,
the ‘punitive streak’ [p.22] in the approach to parole and the ‘vagaries of politics’ [p.25] as a
relevant factor influencing outcomes. These themes are further explored throughout the
subsequent chapters of the book. In Chapter 2, the author explores the rise of life imprisonment
in Ireland as a significant ‘penological’ issue. The legal framework and procedures for sentencing
an offender to life imprisonment are comprehensively examined. A comparative component
complements the set up of the chapter and neatly contextualises the Irish situation. Chapter 3
extends the analysis of the life sentence by exploring the parole process, an ‘anomalous term’
[p.65] as the author astutely points out, given that parole is not a legal concept but rather the
exercise of ministerial power. Key issues in the development of the parole process along with
parole decision-making are impressively synthesised into a detailed and thoroughly informative
Chapter 4 reacquaints us with the concept of risk, which is acknowledged as being visible in the
Irish context, even if the same ‘paradigmatic shift evident in other jurisdictions has not been
replicated here[p.103]. The theoretical examination in this chapter effectively contextualises the
role of public protection in parole decisions. Interestingly the author documents a ‘culture of
cautiousness’ [p.116] with regard to the approach of the Parole Board members in decision-
making. The role of politics and public opinion are the framework for Chapter 5. Factors other
than risk-related factors are analysed, and the politicisation of parole decisions is a key theme
that underscores the narration of the chapter. The parole process is effectively explained as
‘symbolically significant’ [p.147] insofar as the parole authority is in essence ‘engaged in the
appearance of condoning or condemning criminal behaviour’ [p.147]. The impact of public
opinion and politics on the intensification of punishment in relation to life term prisoners is
explored in interesting depth. In Chapter 6, the author introduces us to the human rights
dimension and the impact of decisions from the European Court of Human Rights in this area
of law. The chapter unfolds with an examination of the ‘legal and practical realities of life
imprisonment’ [p.190]. Finally, in Chapter 7, the author reflects upon the lessons learned from
previous chapters, as well as considering the impact of the Parole Bill 2016.

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