Punishing Infanticide in the Irish Free State

Dr. Karen Brennan
IJLS Volume 3 Issue 1 Article 1
This article explores sentencing of women convicted of infanticide offences at the Central Criminal Court between 1922 and 1949. A sample of 124 cases involving women who had been convicted of manslaughter, concealment of birth, or child abandonment/child cruelty, after appearing at the Central Criminal Court on a charge of murdering their newly or recently born infant, is examined. The sentences imposed in this sample mainly include short prison terms, suspended prison sentences, and conditional discharges/probation. It will be argued that the limited use of imprisonment, particularly in cases involving manslaughter convictions, indicates that Irish judges took a lenient approach to sentencing in cases of maternal infanticide. The court records show that a notable aspect of sentencing practice in these Irish infanticide cases is the use of non-penal religious institutions, mostly convents, as an alternative to traditional custody. The impact of patriarchal ideologies and pragmatic considerations on sentencing practice in cases of infanticide is explored, particularly in regard to the use of religious institutions. One of the questions considered is whether the approach to sentencing women convicted of infanticide offences was a unique product of the patriarchal, conservative, catholic, and nationalist philosophies of the Irish Free State, or whether sentencing practice in these cases reflects wider trends in the response to female criminality which have been identified elsewhere.

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