skip to primary navigationskip to content

Dr Alice Ievins


Alice has been a member of the PRC since she started her PhD in 2013. She has worked for the Comparative Penology project, conducting ethnographic research in England & Wales and Norway in prisons holding women and prisons holding men convicted of sex offences, and has been an ESRC Postdoctoral Fellow. In October 2019, she started working on ‘A good life in prison? Everyday ethics in a prison holding young men’, which is funded by an ESRC New Investigator Grant. This project will explore how young adult male prisoners (those aged between 18 and 24) define and pursue a ‘good life’ while they are incarcerated. It hopes to offer a more ‘appreciative’ account of the social worlds of imprisoned young people, who are normally seen, by academics and politicians, as both dangerous and vulnerable. By making use of the growing literature in the anthropology of ethics, Alice hopes to produce an account of the way in which people in prison try to live morally meaningful lives, and to find ‘goodness’ even in a context defined by stark power imbalances, severe deprivation, and complex social relationships.

Alice is currently preparing a manuscript for a book entitled The Stains of Imprisonment: Moral Communication and Social Relationships in a Prison for Men Convicted of Sex Offences, which should be published in 2023 by University of California Press as part of their Gender and Justice series. The book builds on her PhD research and seeks to bring sociological research on the experience of imprisonment into conversation with work on the purpose of punishment and on the best way of responding to harm. Its main argument is that prisons are morally communicative institutions: they say something to those they hold about the offences which led them there and the implications these offences have for their moral character, and much of this moral meaning is communicated through the prosaic yet power-imbued processes which make up daily life in custody.

Research Interests

Alice has significant experience of ethnographic and qualitative research within prisons and is interested in how it feels to be punished, and on how prisoners individually and collectively adapt to their punishment. She has developed a particular interest in the moral connotations of punishment, including how prisoners react both to having done a bad thing, to being told they are bad people, and living with other people who are labelled as bad. She has published and presented on topics including moral community, lateral regulation and penal power in prisons for men convicted of sex offences, and closeness, distance and honesty in ethnographic research. She is also involved in the Learning Together network, and has co-convened a course at HMP Whitemoor on 'The Good Life and the Good Society', with Dr Elizabeth Phillips.

Key Publications

Ievins, A (in progress; due for publication 2023) The Stains of Imprisonment: Moral Communication and Social Relationships in a Prison for Men Convicted of Sex Offences. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Ievins, A & Mjåland, K (under review) Authoritarian exclusion and laissez-faire inclusion: A comparison of the imprisonment of men convicted of sex offences in England & Wales and Norway. Criminology.

Ievins, A (in press; due for publication 2021) Breaking out of the ‘suffering slot’: The value of conducting ethnographic research with men convicted of sexual offences. In J Rainbow (ed) Researching Prisons. London: Routledge.

Ievins, A (in press; due for publication 2020) The society of ‘sex offenders’. In B Crewe, A Goldsmith & M Halsey (eds) Power and Pain in the Modern Prison: Revisiting the Society of Captives. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Ievins, A (2020) Power, shame and social relations in prisons for men convicted of sex offences. Prison Service Journal, 251: 3-10.

Ievins, A (2020) ‘Perfectly individualized and constantly visible’? Lateral tightness in a prison holding men convicted of sex offences. Incarceration.

Crewe, B & Ievins, A (2020) ‘Tightness’, recognition and penal power. Punishment & Society.

Ievins, A (2019) Finding victims in the narratives of men imprisoned for sex offences. In J Fleetwood, L Presser, S Sandberg & T Ugelvik (eds) The Emerald Handbook of Narrative Criminology. Bingley: Emerald, pp. 279-300.

Ievins, A (2019) Prison officers, professionalism and moral judgement. In N Blagden, B Winder, K Hocken, R Lievesley, P Banyard & H Elliott (eds) Sexual Crime and the Experience of Imprisonment. London: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 85-108.

Crewe, B & Ievins, A (2019) The prison as a reinventive institution. Theoretical Criminology, 24(4): 568-589.

Ievins, A & Crewe, B (2015) ‘Nobody’s better than you, nobody’s worse than you’: Moral community among prisoners convicted of sexual offences. Punishment & Society, 17(4): 482-501.

Crewe, B & Ievins, A (2015) Closeness, distance and honesty in prison ethnography. In DH Drake, R Earle and J Sloan (eds), The Palgrave Handbook of Prison Ethnography. London: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 124-142.

Liebling, A, Schmidt, B, Crewe, B, Auty, K, Armstrong, R, Akoensi, T, Kant, D, Ludlow, A & Ievins, A (2015) Birmingham Prison: The Transition from Public to Private Sector and its Impact on Staff and Prisoner Quality of Life - A Three Year Study. National Offender Management Service analytic summary.

Ievins, A (2014) Living Among Sex Offenders: Identity, Safety and Relationships at HMP Whatton. London: The Howard League for Penal Reform.

Ievins, A (2013) ‘This isn’t a real prison’: Prisoner safety and relationships in HMP Whatton. Prison Service Journal, 208: 10-16.

Prisons Research at Cambridge University

The Prisons Research Centre (PRC) was founded in 2000, under the Directorship of Professor Alison Liebling. The Centre has received funding from a wide range of sources, including the Prison Service/NOMS, the Nuffield Foundation, the Leverhulme Trust, the ESRC, KPMG, the Home Office and UKDS (now Kalyx).

The Cambridge Institute of Criminology Prisons Research Centre aims to provide a stimulating research environment in which a coherent strategy of high quality research can be pursued, and integration between funded and non-funded, and applied and theoretical projects can be facilitated. We investigate how prisons operate, socially, morally and operationally, how they are experienced, and the relationship between these moral and social qualities, and their effects.

Members of the PRC team carry out, individually and collectively, methodologically rigorous and theoretically relevant field-based studies addressing problems of human and social values, punishment practices, and the organisation and effects of aspects of prison life. We strive to forge links with other prisons researchers, scholars in the broader fields of criminology and sociology, and with practitioners. Our vision is to develop a rigorous and person-centred model of social inquiry.

You can read more about the latest projects in our Annual Reports.