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Prisons Research Centre



I joined the Institute in 2001, as a post-doctoral fellow, having trained as a sociologist as an undergraduate at Cambridge, a Masters student at London School of Economics, and a PhD student at the University of Essex. I am interested in almost all aspects of prison life, in particular the prisoner experience; prison social life and culture; penal power; staff-prisoner relationships; prison management and penal policy; prison quality; and the impact of political, economic and cultural factors on the nature of imprisonment. I welcome interest from PhD students who wish to conduct research in these areas.

I have recently completed a five-year European Research Council consolidator grant research project titled, 'Penal policy making and the prisoner experience: A comparative analysis', which involved extensive fieldwork in England & Wales, and Norway; and an ESRC-funded study of prisoners serving very long sentences from an early age (with Dr Susie Hulley and Dr Serena Wright). Previous research projects include an ESRC-funded study of values, practices and outcomes in public and private sector corrections (with Professor Alison Liebling) and a NOMS-funded study of the role of prison governors (with Professor Alison Liebling).

I am one of the founding editors of the journal Incarceration, and am an International Associate Board member of Punishment and Society and Theoretical Criminology. I am also one of the series editors of Palgrave Studies in Prisons and Penology (with Yvonne Jewkes and Thomas Ugelvik) and a Trustee of the Prison Reform Trust.


Research Projects

Penal policymaking and the prisoner experience: A comparative analysis

I have recently completed a five-year European Research Council consolidator grant, worth just under €2 million, titled: Penal policymaking and the prisoner experience: A comparative analysis. The research is based in England & Wales, and Norway, and involves four inter-related studies of

(a) penal policymaking and the penal field

(b) the experience of entry into and release from custody

(c) the daily experiences of female prisoners and imprisoned sex offenders, and

(d) prisoners in the most secure parts of each jurisdiction's prison system.

Publications arising from the study so far include the following:

Life-imprisonment from young adulthood

Along with Dr Susie Hulley (University of Cambridge) and Dr Serena Wright (Royal Holloway, University of London), I recently completed a study of prisoners serving very long sentences from an early age. Funded by the ESRC, this project was a longitudinal follow-up of the research we undertook from 2013-2016, in which we interviewed just under 150 male and female prisoners serving life sentences with tariffs of fifteen years or more, sentenced when aged 25 or under. We also collected over 300 surveys from a wider group of individuals who met these criteria, in 25 establishments overall, including young offender institutions, high-security prisons, category B and C prisons, and open prisons. Our key objectives were to understand:

(a) the main problems encountered by these prisoners, and the ways in which they dealt with these problems

(b) how prisoners serving such sentences build a life for themselves while imprisoned for such long periods

(c) the degree to which such prisoners consider their predicament to be legitimate or illegitimate, and the impact of such perceptions on adaptation, compliance and resistance.

For the most recent part of the study we re-interviewed all of our original participants, to find out what has gone on since our initial interview. In particular, we were interested in changes in self-identity, coping strategies, orientations to both the sentence and the offence, and relationships within and beyond the prison. Around 30 of our original interviewees have now been released into the community on life licence, so we were also looking to find out about their experiences of release.

The main publications that have arisen from this study so far include:

Crewe, B., Hulley, S. and Wright, S. (2020) Life Imprisonment from Young Adulthood: Adaptation, Identity and Time. London: Palgrave Macmillan

The book has been reviewed in a number of journals:

Theoretical Criminology:;

Punishment & Society:;

British Journal of Criminology

  • Crewe, B. (2023) ‘Sedative coping, contextual maturity and institutionalisation among prisoners serving life sentences in England & Wales’. British Journal of Criminology
  • Wright, S., Hulley, S., & Crewe, B. (2022) ‘Trajectories of hope and fatalism in the late stage of a life sentence’. Theoretical Criminology
  • Wright, S., Hulley, S., & Crewe, B. (in press) ‘The pains of life imprisonment during late adolescence and emerging adulthood’, in Abrams, L. and Cox, A. (eds) Handbook on Young People and imprisonment. London: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Crewe, B., Hulley, S., & Wright, S (2019) ‘What should happen to people who commit murder’, in Fox, A. and Frater, A. (eds.) Crime and Consequence, 281-287
  • Hulley, S., Crewe, B., & Wright, S. (2019) Making sense of ‘Joint Enterprise’ for murder: legal legitimacy or instrumental acquiescence? British Journal of Criminology, 59(6), 1328-1346
  • Crewe, B., Hulley, S., & Wright, S. (2019) ‘Long-term imprisonment from young adulthood’, National Offender Management Service analytic summary.
  • Crewe, B., Hulley, S., & Wright, S. (2017) ‘The gendered pains of life imprisonment’, British Journal of Criminology. 57(6), 1359-1378
  • Wright, S., Crewe, B., & Hulley, S. (2016) 'Suppression, denial, sublimation: Defending against the intitial pains of very long life sentences’. Theoretical Criminology, 21(2), 225-246
  • Crewe, B., Hulley, S., & Wright, S. (2016) ‘Swimming with the tide: adapting to long-term imprisonment’, Justice Quarterly. 34(3), 517-541
  • Hulley, S., Crewe, B., & Wright, S. (2016) 'Re-examining the problems of long-term imprisonment'. British Journal of Criminology, 56(4), 769-792.
  • Crewe, B., Liebling, A., Padfield, N., & Virgo, G. (2015) ‘Joint Enterprise: the implications of an unfair and unclear law’. Criminal Law Review Issue 4, 252-269

Values, Practices and outcomes in public and private corrections

From 2007-2010, Ben was co-investigator with Professor Alison Liebling of an ESRC-funded study of values, practices and outcomes in public and private corrections.

The study had two main components:

(1) a comparative evaluation of quality of life, culture and practices in five private sector and two public sector prisons, in England and Wales; and

(2) around 90 interviews with senior managers working in the public and private sectors, focussing in particular on professional values and motivations.


Key publications: 
  • Crewe, B. (2020) ‘Afterword’, in Turner, J. and Knight, V. (eds.), The Cell. London: Palgrave, Macmillan.
  • Liebling, A., Laws, B., Lieber, E., Auty, K., Schmidt, B., Crewe, B., Gardom, J., Kant, D., & Morey, M. (2019) ‘Are Hope and Possibility Achievable in Prison?’ The Howard Journal of Crime and Justice, DOI: 10.1111/hojo.12303
  • Crewe, B. (2018) ‘Process and insight in prison ethnography’, in Rice, S. and Maltz, M. (eds.) Doing Ethnography in Criminology: Discovery through Fieldwork. New York: Springer International Publishing. 83-89.
  • Crewe, B., & Laws, B. (2018) ‘Subcultural adaptations to incarceration’, in J. Wooldredge and P. Smith (eds.) The Oxford Handbook of Prisons and Imprisonment. Oxford: OUP
  • Morey, M., & Crewe, B. (2018) ‘Work, intimacy and prisoner masculinities’, in Maycock, M and Hunt, K (eds.) (2017) New Perspectives on Prison Masculinities. London: Palgrave Macmillan
  • Crewe, B., & Liebling, A. (2017) ‘Reconfiguring penal power’, in A. Liebling, S. Maruna, S. and L. McAra (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Criminology, Oxford: OUP.
  • Jewkes, Y., Bennett, J., & Crewe, B. (eds.) (2016) The Handbook on Prisons. London: Routledge.
  • Laws, B., & Crewe, B. (2016) ‘Emotion regulation among male prisoners’. Theoretical Criminology, 20(4), 529-547, doi: 10.1177/1362480615622532
  • Ievins, A., & Crewe, B. (2015) ‘Nobody’s better than you, nobody’s worse than you’: Moral community among prisoners convicted of sexual offences’. Punishment and Society, 17(4), 482-501
  • Crewe, B. (2015) 'Inside the belly of the beast: understanding the experience of imprisonment'. The International Journal for Crime, Justice and Social Democracy. 4(1), 50-65
  • Crewe, B., & Ievins, A (2015) ‘Closeness, distance and honesty in prison research’, in D. Drake, R. Earle, and J. Sloan (eds) The International Handbook of Prison Ethnography. London: Palgrave, 124-142
  • Crewe, B. (2014) 'Not looking hard enough: masculinity, emotion and prison research'. Qualitative Inquiry, 20(4), 392-403
  • Crewe, B., Bennett, P., Smith, A., & Warr, J. (2014) 'The emotional geography of prison life'. Theoretical Criminology, 18(1), 1 56-74
  • Crewe, B., & Bennett, J. (eds.) (2012) The Prisoner. London: Routledge.
  • Crewe, B. (2011) ‘Depth, weight, tightness: Revisiting the pains of imprisonment’. Punishment and Society, 13(5), 509-529.
  • Crewe, B. (2011) ‘Soft power in prison: Implications for staff-prisoner relationships, liberty and legitimacy’. European Journal of Criminology, 8(6), 455-468

A full list of my publications is available here.

Podcasts & Video Recordings

Inaugural Lecture on ‘The Texture of Imprisonment’

The Criminology Academy: Prison Life and Nordic Penal Exceptionalism

Locked up Living: Life imprisonment (with Susie Hulley and Serena Wright)

Justice Focus: Understanding Life Imprisonment

Growth Uncut: Humanity, Pain and Growth

Thinking Allowed – Radio 4

Crime & Consequence: What Should Happen to People who Commit Murder?

The Secret Life of Lifers (with Susie Hulley and Serena Wright)


Teaching and Supervisions

Research supervision: 


Student PhD Research
Sophie Ellis Legitimacy in prison-based forensic psychology practices.
Ben Jarman Moral economy and the pursuit of desistance.
Tania Mejia O’Donnell Prison pen-pals: The value of correspondence from laypeople.
Ailie Rennie The release of mandatory life-sentenced prisoners: a ‘short-longitudinal’ approach.
Daria Przybylska Gendering the ‘texture’ of open imprisonment: A mixed-methods study of women prisoners’ experiences of open conditions in England & Wales.
Claudia Vince Trauma and life imprisonment: How do men and women serving life sentences deal with and process experiences of trauma?
Deputy Director, Prisons Research Centre
Professor of Penology and Criminal Justice
Professor Ben  Crewe
Not available for consultancy