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Dr Ben Laws

Dr Ben Laws

Research Associate

ESRC New Investigator

Wolfson College Junior Research Fellow


Research Interests

Over the next three years Ben's ESRC grant will be used to explore the emotional dimensions of segregation units in England and Wales. The study is titled: 

Prisoner Emotions at the Margins: Understanding the pathways to destruction and healing among prisoners in solitary confinement

The main aims of the study are to:

(1) Examine the key dynamics of the emotional world of solitary confinement

Prisoners will be asked about the specific ways they manage emotions (levels of expression, suppression, and emotional ‘reframing’ etc.), and about the intensity and prevalence of different emotions—especially, fear, anger, sadness, anxiety; but also emotions such as joy, care and serenity. The inclusion of both men and women in this study, builds on Ben's previous comparative research, and revises the tendency to treat female prisoners as ‘correctional afterthoughts’.

(2) Explore the emotional ‘pathways’ of prisoners who experience segregation

Little is known about the patterns of emotional development of these marginalized sub-groups over time. In light of this, the study will examine how ‘cycles of infractions’ in situ can potentiate entrenched pathways of violence and long-term patterns of despair. Importantly, O’Donnell (2014: 283) discusses the need to explain ‘triumphs as well as tragedies’. This will be executed by measuring whether managing emotions in particular ways, or learning specific coping strategies, leads to differential developmental outcomes (e.g. ‘healing’, or ‘destructive’ pathways).

 

Ben’s PhD was supervised by Dr. Ben Crewe. It examined the emotional dimensions of prison life and investigated the ways in which male and female prisoners regulated their emotions. Using a combination of semi-structured interviews and prisoner shadowing, Ben conducted his research in HMP Ranby (a Category C men's prison in Nottinghamshire) and HMP Send (a closed category women's prison in Surrey). Ben hopes to transform these findings into a research monograph in the near future.

 

Education and Background

Ben studied English (BA) at Leicester, Psychology (MSc) at St. Andrews and Criminology (MPhil, PhD) here in Cambridge. He has professional experience working in a range of mental health settings across the UK and US, mainly supporting those with autistic spectrum disorders (ASDs) and young adults diagnosed with conduct disorders. 

Key Publications

Liebling, A., Laws, B., Lieber, E, et al. (2019) Are hope and possibility achievable in prison?. The Howard Journal of Crime and Justice. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/hojo.1230

Laws, B. (2018) The Return of the Supressed: Exploring how emotional suppression returns as violence and pain among male and female prisoners. Punishment & Society, 1-18.  https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/1462474518805071

Laws, B., and Lieber, E. (under review). King, Warrior, Magician, Lover: Forms of care among male prisoners. The European Journal of Criminology.

Crewe, B., and Laws, B. (2017) 'Subcultural adaptations to incarceration', in J. Wooldredge and P. Smith (eds.) The Oxford Handbook on Prisons and Imprisonment. Oxford: Oxford University Press. http://www.oxfordhandbooks.com/view/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199948154.001.0001/oxfordhb-9780199948154-e-6

Laursen, J. and Laws, B., (2017) ‘Honour and respect in Danish prisons: Contesting 'cognitive distortions' in cognitive-behavioural programmes’. Punishment & Society, 19(1), 74- 95. http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1462474516649175

Laws, B., & Crewe, B. (2016) ‘Emotion regulation among male prisoners’. Theoretical Criminology, 20(4), 529-547. http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1362480615622532

Laws, B. (2016) Fronting, masking and emotion release: An exploration of prisoners' emotional management strategies. The Howard League for Penal Reform. https://howardleague.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/Fronting-masking-and-emotion-release.pdf

Laws, B. (Forthcoming). In shadows and space: an ethnography of prisoner emotion. The Oxford Handbook on Ethnographies of Crime and Criminal Justice.

Laws, B. (Forthcoming). ‘Where is the love? Unearthing the ‘forgotten’ emotions of prison life’, in V. Knight (ed) Emotions Inside Criminal Justice, Polity Press.