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Remembering Paul O'Mahony, father of Irish criminology

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Some distinguished colleagues will now pay their respects to Paul and CrimeTalk is honoured to relay them to a wider audience. As a relative newcomer to Irish criminology, I see Paul O'Mahony as the father, grandfather, or maybe even godfather, of Irish criminology. Certainly, Paul's lifetime work had considerable significance for the development of criminology in Ireland. He passed away on 11 November 2015.                       

Valerie Bresnihan, a co-founder with Paul O’Mahony of the Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT), spoke about him at his funeral in Glasnevin, on 14 November 2015:


Today, is a celebration of Paul’s remarkable life. I thank Sheila for the invitation to speak of Paul as a friend.


Dr Paul O'MahonyI first literally bumped into Paul while I was working for  Mountjoy Prison Visiting Committee, in the early 90s and  I had just agreed to become the chair of IPRT.  In my great ignorance of what was to be chair of a less than popular little voluntary body, it quickly became clear to me that I was in dire need of some straight-talking advice.  Boy, had I bumped into the right person! Paul was immediately honest and blunt. His advice was direct and wise in equal measure, and we quickly became firm friends.


Throughout my time working with Paul for the IPRT, 6 years in total, Paul maintained an exceptional perspective on the Trust’s right for a space in the public arena, particularly from a normative as well as an evidence-based perspective. He was at all times undeterred and unwavering in his beliefs.  Consistency was his middle name. As IPRT was then in its infancy our work was difficult, if not on occasions almost impossible. Yet at all times Paul remained strong, supportive and undeterred by obstacles. It was frequently an inspiration, to watch him.


He was always more than clear in his mind where IPRT should go – and as you know he didn’t suffer fools gladly. Sparks often flew, but much more fundamentally, he always succeeded in filling in the essential developmental gaps of a fledging institution that we had both come to love right well.  And so, for 6 years, with Paul, Brian Harvey, Celesta McCann James, and of course, Helen Haughton, IPRT survived, and survived very well.


Paul and I left IPRT at the same time.  Our work was done. By now we had become trusted friends.  Happily, we then we had discovered we had something else in common – the love of a decent dinner party with our spouses and of course, with plenty of conversation and, yes,  the proverbial glass of wine. Many a first course involved Paul and I catching up with current events related to penal reform.  Our spouses, always our team-mates, were ever-patient.  After that, it was every man for himself: the  2nd course tended to solve a variety of world crises.   The dessert usually recounted jokes and funny stories. Paul was a master story-teller and his sense of humour often had us there till the wee hours. There were later 6 around the table – Bernadette & Paddy O Sullivan, common friends to both Sheila and myself.  Alas, although those times were truly splendid and indeed the richest of times, they were far too short.  Barry left in 2010 and today, it is Paul’s turn.  

I thank you Sheila for your kindness to me since 2010 especially.  It is my turn now and I am privileged to share a special friendship with you. 

I always feel that Paul never quite got the recognition he deserved and my words I know are perhaps less than adequate today.  I will immediately improve things by quoting, with his permission, the words of President of Ireland, Michael D Higgins. On the 18th of September this year there was a celebration in the Aras to mark 21 years of IPRT’s anniversary. Paul was unable to attend. 

Here is what our President said and I quote:


“Throughout my academic career, the areas of criminology and penology have been very important to me.  I began teaching criminology and the study of deviant behaviour in the 1970s – and it was around that time that I first met Dr. Paul O’Mahony as we were both involved in the first, ultimately unsuccessful, attempts to establish an Institute of Criminology in Ireland.  I know that Paul played as central role in the early years of IPRT and his academic work in describing the sociological context of imprisonment in Ireland, as well of course as his work in the areas of addiction and marginalisation, are of seminal importance."


High praise indeed, I think you might all agree,  and well-deserved words from someone now holding the highest office in the land. In conclusion, I like to imagine that our President had Paul especially in his mind when he ended his remarks to us all that night by saying:


‘May I say that as patron of IPRT I am proud to be associated with this important organisation in Irish civic society, and as President of Ireland I want to express my gratitude for all that you have done, and for all that you continue to do for our most marginalised citizens.’ As Ml D has said Paul’s work was seminal, it will continue, but my goodness he will be missed.

Thank you.



Niall Walsh, who works at the Pathways Post-release Project in Dublin, writes:

Here is one of my memories: I asked Paul if he would be interested in coming in to the Pathways Project to deliver a lecture on a topic of his choosing. Even though he was retired he did not hesitate. On the day in question he came in a gave a talk on "The War on Drugs". I had advertised the class beforehand and there was standing room only. For those familiar with the Pathways Project, the main classroom is quite small. I stopped counting when I reached 50 in attendance. You could have heard a penny drop and Paul took over an hour after the class answering the many questions that were posed. 

Afterwards, as Paul was smoking outside, it transpired that some of the lads have taken part in his research on Mountjoy. He really enjoyed chatting away with the lads. Some were in awe of his knowledge, as was he with the level of engagement with the topic. It was rare to get the level of engagement that was got that afternoon and it will go down as one of the highlights of events in the centre. He gave a lot to benefit those in society who are less fortunate and he will be sorely missed, as will his contributions.

Paul was a gentleman and I feel privileged to have known him.

Remembering Paul O’Mahony - Jane Carrigan, Chairperson of the Irish Prison Education Association (IPEA):


My first and only meeting with Paul O’Mahony took place in the summer of the 2005 in his office. I had started a work placement with the Health Research Board as part of a master’s programme and while I envisaged myself conducting research in hospitals in Dublin, I found myself unexpectedly involved in a project about drug use in prison. It was the start of an incredible journey for me, one that is still continuing, and it was a journey very much shaped by Paul’s work and by his kind words of encouragement and advice on the day I met him.

Paul’s writings on justice were always exceptionally good – not only were they thoroughly engaging (and not many academic texts can lay claim to that!) but they were well argued and thought-provoking. His survey of prisoners in Mountjoy in the '80s (repeated again 10 years later) was a jolt to my system. I can still remember the first time I read it. How could it be, I thought to myself, that such inequalities in who we imprison and what areas they come from, could happen? Like all good research, his work raised more questions. The statistics he produced made me furious and determined to do something. I’m not sure I can fully capture it in words but his work and his words had a profound effect on me, both personally and in the direction of my own PhD some years later on education in prison. 

In my job as a lecturer, I taught classes on cultural studies and I always included a section on punishment and always referenced Paul’s work. A slide on just some of the statistics that Paul produced generated huge discussions among students on the nature of punishment both here in Ireland and internationally.  I could see the impact his research was still having and I’m enormously grateful to have benefited from his ground-breaking work.

When I announced to members of the Irish Prison Education Association at our national conference in November, that Paul’s death had occurred, the reaction was one of great sadness.  We recognised him as one of our own, and for many of us in the room that day, Paul’s contribution to revealing who we imprison in Ireland, and in forcing us to ask the question ‘why?’, was simply invaluable.

Senator Ivana Bacik, a colleague at Trinity College, writes of Paul:

I have a great deal for which to thank Paul O’Mahony. He was always very good to me; as an academic colleague, as a mentor in the field of criminology, and as a research supervisor. When I started teaching criminology and penology in Trinity College back in the late 1990's, Paul was the leading Irish authority in what was then a very low-profile academic discipline. He had already published a ground-breaking text, Crime and Punishment in Ireland (1993), and his subsequent famous study on Mountjoy prisoners, published in 1997, also made a really significant contribution to the development of knowledge about prison and prison conditions in Ireland. I admired him greatly, not only for his prodigious and vitally important academic output, but also for his activism on penal reform, through his work with the Irish Penal Reform Trust.

Once I got to know him personally, I quickly realised that he was not only highly approachable and extremely generous with his time and expertise; but that he was also very politically and socially engaged, always up for a good old-fashioned argument; and great fun to socialise with. He was always questioning, and his critical but constructive intellect made him enormously good company. He and Sheila were always warm and friendly, and when I had my first daughter, they were both particularly good to me, giving great support as academic colleagues in Trinity, and offering useful advice on how to juggle teaching and research workloads with the challenges of parenting. I was delighted when Paul asked me to contribute chapters to the major criminology text he was editing, published as Criminal Justice in Ireland (2002); a text which I still use with my students. Indeed, I often think of Paul when teaching criminology and penology now; he had a profound influence on my own teaching and academic work in those fields. He is deeply missed.

Claire Hamilton of NUI Maynooth writes:

You often hear of work being described as 'seminal' in a particular field but in Paul's case these words are no mere platitude. Starting in to my research on 'moral panic' in 2000, Paul's books such as Crime and Punishment and, particularly, Criminal Chaos, together with his other writings, opened up a new whole new world to me, and, in a very real sense, provided the inspiration for my further work into the criminological field. His keen intellect, impeccable turn of phrase and penetrating eye for the realpolitik of criminal justice in the 1990's, made paraphrasing difficult, if not impossible. Often I gave up and just quoted him! Incontrovertibly, Irish criminology and criminal justice owes him a heavy debt of gratitude.

Kevin Warner, who worked with Paul in the Department of Justice, also spoke at his funeral:

I knew Paul O’Mahony from about 1980 when he came to work in the Prisons Division of the Department of Justice, and for a dozen years or so (until he went to Trinity) our offices and that of Paul Murphy were next to each other. I have a feeling the Department of Justice didn’t really want a social psychologist focused on research – but they got one anyway courtesy of the Civil Service Commission. They were fairly ok with psychologists looking inside people’s heads, but not so keen at looking at wider issues such as the lives those in prison experienced, their backgrounds and the social issues which brought them into prison.

In that period, and later at Trinity College, Paul examined really important matters such as, for example, addiction, the situation in the old Women’s Prison, the youngsters in St. Patrick’s Institution and Shanganagh Castle, suicide in prison, the peculiar nature of the Irish prison system compared to other European countries and (at the urging of John Lonergan) seminal studies of the men and women in Mountjoy.

Paul also focused on the criminal justice system as a whole and published six books and a great range of other studies. So, for example, when a judge issued a report on the Kerry Babies case which whitewashed the behaviour of the Gardai, Paul’s report on that report was forensic and scathing. Paul’s work was always academically rigorous, but for me the core quality was always a seeking out of truth, often the uncomfortable truth, and, most especially, he spoke truth to power. 

What also comes across greatly in Paul’s research is the humanity. He could do the statistics, but we always see ‘the whole person’, people in all their complexity, their qualities as well as their problems, the lives they live, their backgrounds and experience. Through it all there is a deep commitment to social justice.

At times, Paul would feel his work didn’t get the attention it deserved. However, as I’m doing a little work at UCC just now, I was able to tell him recently how the Boole Library in Cork has multiple copies of all his books, all very well thumbed and marked. That pleased him, but of course, being Paul, he also had a little grumble about places where the books were not so well represented.

Paul shouldn’t have doubted that he is the father – perhaps I should say the grandfather – of criminology and criminal justice study in Ireland, work that speaks of and for the troubled and troublesome in our society. We should be hugely grateful for that, and I have no doubt his writing will endure and continue to be of value to us all.


Richest 62 billionaires as wealthy as half the world population combined

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Richest 62 billionaires as wealthy as half the world population combined

"Oxfam said it intended to challenge the executives of multi-national corporations in Davos on their tax policies. It said nine out of 10 WEF corporate partners had a presence in at least one tax haven and it was estimated that tax dodging by multinational corporations costs developing countries at least $100bn every year. Corporate investment in tax havens almost quadrupled between 2000 and 2014.

Children on waste site


The Equality Trust, which campaigns against inequality in the UK, said Britain’s 100 richest families had increased their wealth by at least £57bn since 2010, a period in which average incomes declined.

Duncan Exley, the trust’s director, said: “Inequality, both globally but also in the UK, is now at staggering levels. We know that such a vast gap between the richest and the rest of us is bad for our economy and society. We now need our politicians to wake up and address this dangerous concentration of wealth and power in the hands of so few.”"


Half of world's wealth now in hands of 1% of population – report

Mark Goldring, Oxfam GB’s chief executive, said: “The fact it has happened a year early – just weeks after world leaders agreed a global goal to reduce inequality – shows just how urgently world leaders need to tackle this problem. 

“This is the latest evidence that extreme inequality is out of control. Are we really happy to live in a world where the top 1% own half the wealth and the poorest half own just 1%?”

The Credit Suisse report concludes that global wealth has fallen by $12.4tn so far in 2015 - to $250tn – the first drop since the 2008 banking crisis. This is largely a result of the strength of the dollar, the currency used for Credit Suisse’s calculations.

The estimates are for the end of June 2015, when Chinese stock prices had fallen 20% from the peak after soaring by more than 150% between June 2014 and mid June 2015. The report was published at the end of September, by which time the Chinese stock market had fallen a further 25%.

A year ago, the the UK had been singled out as the only country in the G7 where inequality had risen this century. In this year’s report, the authors say: 

“[In the UK] wealth inequality has risen since 2000, as the gap in wealth per adult between the lower segment and rest of the population has increased.”

The UK is fourth in the world for median wealth – which strips out the impact of those at the highest and lowest end of the wealth league – at $126,500 (£83,000) per person, down 13% on a year earlier.

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Remembering Jason Ditton

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Jason Ditton younger versionIt was with great sadness and a huge sense of loss that we learned of the passing of Jason. He was a brilliant criminologist, with a sharp mind and a kind heart.  He was also our PhD supervisor.  By way of tribute, we wanted to share our memories and experiences of this influential and much loved supervisor and friend.

Jason was my PhD supervisor from 2001-2006 (ish). Not long after I started my research he asked "Did you read the books I sent you?" "ok, now I will assume you know much more than me". He took me to my first conference and introduced me to his colleagues using this as an opener.  He never presumed to be the expert, and that made you feel totally at ease.  Like many of his other students, he fed us (after seminars) and employed us (to teach) when he knew we were struggling. He persuaded the University to give me a bursary, knowing I was unlikely to complete without it.  We had supervision meetings over dinner (he ordered seafood risotto and the house white) and I wondered "am I supposed to take notes?"

On the day of my viva I travelled to Glasgow. Jason took me on a tour of the city. We saw the places he had researched and I listened to the stories he had heard. I will never forget hearing his fake Glaswegian accent 'otherwise the taxis charge you double' he said.  When my viva was over he was the first person I called.

My interest in the drugs field and my attitude to academia is inspired by him and I am extremely thankful for his influence.  And as I attempt to segment all aspects of my writing into multiples of 3, I will think of him.

Dr Liz Austen, Principal Lecturer in Criminology, Sheffield Hallam University.


Jason Ditton was my MA dissertation supervisor and my Ph.D. supervisor from 1999-2003.  He had one of those rare, but infinitely valuable, academic minds that could employ minimal intervention to achieve maximum effect.  He would frequently casually drop in an idea in passing, that would increase the creativity of my work tenfold.  During his supervision of my MA dissertation, which largely consisted of one rushed and spontaneous meeting in a corridor due to my overwhelming fear that if I actually spoke to him he would discover the vast depths of my ignorance, he commented, off the cuff, that my rather clichéd plan to compare the drug policies of Sweden and the Netherlands would benefit greatly from a consideration of them in relation to drug policy at the European Union level.  My academic career to date has been built on the veracity of this statement.

My fear of Jason dissipated throughout my Ph.D. over dinners in the local Italian, a trip to visit him and Furzana at his ‘Scottish Centre for Criminology’, otherwise known as his flat, and my first attempt at sailing on Loch Lomond.  He gave me two great gifts (apart from his choice of the external examiners for my Ph.D.): the first was an ability to believe in myself and my own capabilities, largely through his own unwavering belief in me and insistence that I stand on my own two feet.  The second was to enjoy academic life to the full, but also to realise that there was life to be had outside of academia, and that that was important too.  Throughout my career, as during my studies at the University of Sheffield, Jason has been there for me when I needed him, and he will be much missed.

Dr Caroline Chatwin, Senior Lecturer in Criminology, University of Kent.


Jason was an innovative methodologist and a gifted thinker, well respected by his peers and passionate about 'research impact', long before it was a metric. He was also a brilliant teacher; I watched him bring many classrooms to life with his stories, delivered in his provocative style. As a PhD supervisor, then, he was a superb role model. He was wise, generous and passionate about giving me every opportunity to forge my own distinct professional identity. He instilled in me a strong appreciation of academic freedom and a commitment to using my knowledge and skills to bring about change (however small) in the real world. He pushed me to see the bigger picture, encouraging me to find ways of doing the essential tasks 'efficiently' to make space for the more important things - thinking, innovating, helping people, holidays. It was a privilege to have been his student and I will always be grateful to him for believing in me. He will be sorely missed.

Dr Natasha Taylor, Senior Lecturer in Academic Professional Development, Sheffield Hallam University.


I didn’t know Jason the longest or the best.  I was his PhD student, perhaps his last PhD student, as he retired just before I finished.  And he was hugely influential on both my academic and personal life.  I had come from Canada to the University of Sheffield to complete a Masters in International Criminology.  I had no real knowledge of either the city or the university and had made the move based on the nature of the programme.  Jason taught the module on drugs in late modernity.  It was my favourite module!  It was from this that we started talking about different types of drug use and drug users.  I remember once looking for information on older illegal drug users and having the conversation with Jason about why I couldn’t find any.  He said there was little research in this area because the accepted academic understanding was that older users didn’t exist.  By their 40s and 50s illegal drug users had either ‘matured out’ or died, so the theory went. We talked more about the topic. In the end, Jason said ‘why don’t you come and do a PhD with me on this?’

My PhD application was two hand-written paragraphs on one side of A4.  Those two paragraphs changed the course of my life.  I ended up staying in Sheffield (a city I still call home to this day) and over the course of my PhD studies learned so much about drugs, academia, teaching, writing and life.  A lot of this was thanks to Jason.  He was supportive in so many respects.  We had supervision meetings in restaurants when I was a poor student (he picked up the bill and I got a good meal). He gave me the opportunity to teach some of his classes when I needed the experience to put on my CV (and the money came in handy too). He had a very old school approach to supervision; he pushed me to think, pushed me to be independent, gave me the confidence I needed to be sure of my ideas and trusted that I knew what I was researching and writing.  I also met some of my dearest friends studying for my PhD, including my future husband (he started on the same day in the same department and we now have two beautiful babies).  None of this would have happened without Jason.

He was a kind hearted and genuine gentleman who changed my life for the better and in many ways made it what it is today.  I have a lot to acknowledge him for and a lot to thank him for, and I know I am not the only one.  He will be missed.

Dr Jaime Waters, Senior Lecturer in Criminology, Sheffield Hallam University.


Jason was a great teacher, supervisor, mentor and friend to whom I owe a huge chunk of my career so far. As my PhD supervisor his style was informal, which suited me down to the ground. We used to teach the same methods class together and most of my supervision was in cigarette-and-coffee breaks in the middle of these sessions - although he was always available for more formal sessions, whether in person or over the phone, if I felt I needed them. He was always genuinely enthusiastic about my research - and about my career after I left Sheffield. He was also always full of good advice - too much to go into here, but three things he said always stuck in my mind (and I pass them on to my own students now - well, at least the first two). 
I remember when he told me to get arrested... not to actively go out and seek this, but that if I was ever in a situation where I was with my research subjects and the police turned up I should absolutely not try and play the 'researcher' card to avoid arrest. Quite the opposite. After all, he said, if you escape arrest when others don't then they are unlikely to want to talk to you again - but if they see you also getting arrested this would encourage greater rapport and trust - and therefore better data.
I also remember him advising me to swear. Not just generally, but specifically when in an interview contact. Start the tape, then drop your pen (or something) and swear as you go to pick it up. A little thing, but again something that would encourage interviewees to relax, to see you less of an authority figure and more as someone they could talk to openly, that they could relax with and be themselves. In a similar vein, he actively encouraged me to grow - and keep - my dreadlocks (which I still have - although they are now in a bag in my study at home rather than on my head...). The point with all of these snippets, of course, was that the best research (at least the best qualitative research) comes from those who can get closest to their research subjects - a dreadlocked swearer with a criminal record finds out so much more. Obviously a double-blind experiment is impossible here, but I have no doubt that he was right.
Dr. Gary Potter, Senior Lecturer, Lancaster University Law School.


------  Thank you Jason, from all of your PhD students, for all that you gave us and all that you meant to us  --------




Please also see Jacky Tombs’ obituary in the Herald Scotland (



Dr Jaime Waters, Senior Lecturer in Criminology, Sheffield Hallam University.

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David Bowie on the impact of the internet

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Jeremy Paxman interviews Bowie. 1999. Sadly, David Bowie died this week. This interview reminds us of why he is often called the prophet of postmodernism as he talks about how anything can be said on the internet amidst fragmented audiences. I just wish Paxo had asked him about the death of the signified and why Bowie felt it had really gone..... and where? Still, he was spot on about the way the internet has changed our conception of what "mediums are all about". The work ain't finished until the audience comes to it. "Art is about the grey space in the middle....." and the twenty-first century is all about that space, says the man.

This interview with Bowie done by Michael Parkinson will speak to many creatives about the ordinary roots of our productions. It includes Bowie singing 'Life on Mars', which shows that creativity isn't reducible to practical simple underlying conditions, even though riddled with them.

Thanks to Clare Leon for bringing the first one to my attention on Facebook.

May two colleagues RIP: Geoff Pearson & Bill Chambliss

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A brief and long overdue payment of my respects to two of my favourite colleagues and friends in 'the business' (of critical criminology): Geoff Pearson (1943-2013) and Bill Chambliss (1933-2014). Both made huge contributions to intellectual life, in the UK and USA, and to criminology in particular; the latter still not fully recognized by its establishment.

Geoff Pearson: a fellow Lancastrian working-class socialist, and serious United fan, who also spoke truth to power at Cambridge, somehow managing to get through Peterhouse before setting off on his distinguished career. I will never forget the fact that Geoff never scorned my appointment at Cambridge, always encouraged me to keep up the struggle,gave me gtreat advice and moral support, and turned up to give a talk whenever I asked. He understood that progress was never going to be easy and needed a large dose of Northern grit, determination, bluntness and industry. RIP mate.

Bill Chambliss:  approved for Academic Press the publication of my first book, Reading Ideologies, and never ceased to support my intellectual endeavours, latterly giving me that excellent chapter he wrote for The Blackwell Companion to Criminology on official statistics. My memories include tenpin bowling with Bill, Alan Block and Marcia, and experiencing the American perception of the sport as 'blue-collar' only and not for academics, introducing me to Sandra Harding, Joel Best and other lovely people in Delaware, and tolerating my having my then 18-month old son Ben play around at the front during my guest lecture at Delaware in 1979. Bill sustained my view of intellectual life as part of a much bigger picture and that it needed some fun to stay healthy. Like him, I will always enjoy working with women around me and men with a sense of humour.

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