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There is an increasing need to understand the processes in which key decisions are made within the criminal justice system. While women in the Irish prison system are still very much in the minority they are the fastest growing population in prison and are currently experiencing overcrowding unknown in living memory in Irish prisons. It is too soon to comprehensively examine the origins of the recent policy decision to retrofit bunk beds and dormitories in Ireland’s largest women’s prison (Dóchas Centre) and what other possible solutions were explored, for example, why a proposed new facility was cancelled. However, it is possible to examine the origins of the Dóchas Centre, which was responding to a crisis of its era. A review of the relevant literature on the policy processes highlights that the criminal justice policy process does not follow a linear trajectory; an identified problem does not necessarily attract the most appropriate solution (Rock, 1995; Kingdon, 2003). While studies have identified the effects of policy decisions, very little is understood of their origin (Jones and Newburn, 2005). The literature also identifies the residual place that women occupy within the prison system. This emphases the need for a greater understanding of the policy process as it affects this minority group. A qualitative study, using both documentary analysis (Parliamentary reports) and semi-structured interviews with key individuals was undertaken to explore the process behind the genesis of the Dóchas Centre. The findings indicate the importance of individuals within the processes and the prevalence of a clear objective amongst those individuals to improve conditions for women and the adaptation of their conditions to their particular needs. Highlighted is the importance of serendipity in the process and that pragmatic rather than thoroughly optimal best decisions were made during the process. With the benefit of Kingdon’s multiple stream model (2003), a lens is focused on the policy process behind the decision to build the Dóchas Centre. What emerges is evidence that the success of the process relied upon multiple opportunities ‘windows’ presenting themselves until, finally, the policy decision crystallised in the construction of the Centre.
Carroll, E.: Pulling a rabbit out of a hat, where do policies come from? An examination of the criminal justice policy processes behind the building of the Dóchas Centre (Ireland’s largest women’s prison). Masters Dissertation. Dublin Institute of Technology. 2011.