The ‘Earned Privilege’ of Family Contact in Northern Ireland: Judicial Justification of Prisoners' Loss of Family Life



Abstract: Our ‘carceral society’ often conspires to effect a continuum of punishments far beyond that needed to extinguish ‘behaviour and bring about attitude change’ in offenders (Hudson 1993, p.32). Recent jurisprudence on family life during incarceration has inverted the concept of the right, framing it as ‘earned privilege’ and linking it to subjective notions of good behaviour.1 This has created a sub-category of the right, also diminishing its normative status. In many of the judgments referred to, judicial concern for public opinion seems to sideline the need to promote family life. This applies equally to Northern Ireland jurisprudence and to the international case-law to which domestic judiciaries look for guidance.