Frances Finnegan traces the development of Ireland's Magdalen Asylums - homes that were founded in the mid-nineteenth century for the detention of prostitutes undergoing reform. The inmates of these asylums were discouraged - and many forcibly prevented - from leaving,and sometimes were detained for life. Put to work without pay in adjoining laundries, these women were subject to penance, harsh discipline, enforced silence, and prayer. As the numbers of prostitutes began to dwindle, the church looked elsewhere for this free labor, targeting other 'fallen' women such as unwed mothers and wayward or abused girls. Some were incarcerated simply for being 'too beautiful', and therefore in danger of sin. Others were mentally retarded. Most of them were brought to the asylums by their families or priests, and many were forcibly prevented from leaving. Unbelievably, the last of these asylums was closed only in 1996. Drawing on hitherto unpublished material, Finnegan presents case histories of individual women and their experiences in Magdalen homes, which claimed some 30,000 women in all. Do Penance or Perish is the first study of this shameful episode in Irish history.