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PRILA - Improving Policy & Practice in the Governance of European Prisons

The Project aims:

1. To find out whether accountability is a distinctive norm of the European legal system in the field of prisons;

2. To engage in comparative legal analysis on the topic of accountability in prisons by exploring European law and that of the United States and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights;

3. To find out how accountability is experienced by prisoners, prison staff and staff of bodies such as Ombudsmen, inspectors, and bodies which deal with complaints;

4. To create a typology of accountability bodies in European prison systems, and examine the relationship between the presence of such bodies and other indicators of prison regimes.

The PRILA project will be organising conferences and seminars on its work, as well as developing briefing papers for policymakers and people affected by accountability, inspection and oversight of prisons.

PRILA’s research questions:

PRILA will help us to understand:

  • How prisoners experience accountability structures, and rights;
  • How prison managers and prison officers/guards experience monitoring and external scrutiny;
  • How staff of bodies like Ombudsmen and inspectorates experience their work, and challenges in their work;
  • How a visit from an inspection and monitoring body is experienced;
  • What kinds of accountability structures exist in European prisons;
  • How types of accountability structures are related to other indicators of penal regimes, such as prison overcrowding; and
  • Whether there is a distinctive European way for accountability in prisons, by comparing European law with that of the United States and other jurisdictions.


There are five substantive work packages planned for the course of the project. The project runs from April 2016 to the end of March 2021.

  • PRILA will conduct legal and comparative analysis with the United States and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights to assess the requirements and distinctiveness of European law (Work Package (WP) 1). It will use this to inform the interview guides and design of the quantitative work.
  • Under Prisoners' Experiences (WP2), the research team will examine and compare prisoners' experiences of accountability, inspection and oversight in Ireland and another European country. Sophie van der Valk is working with Prof Rogan on this part of the research in Ireland, while Dr Christine Morgenstern will work on the German situation.
  • Under Experiencing Scrutiny (WP3), the research team will examine the experiences of prison staff of accountability, inspection and oversight. Sarah Curristan and Ray O'Keeffe are working with Prof Rogan on this part of the research on the Irish dimension of the work, with Dr Christine Morgenstern examining Germany.
  • Under Accountability Work (WP4), Dr Eva Aizpurua and Prof Rogan will examine the typology of systems, the effects of accountability, inspection and oversight. The research team will also examine how staff of accountability bodies experience their work.
  • In Experiencing Inspection (WP5), Dr Ciara O'Connell and Prof Rogan will examine experiences of a visit from an international monitoring body.

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