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Prisons Research Centre


The PRC welcomes enquiries from potential PhD students.

The Prisons Research Centre welcomes applications from well qualified students wishing to undertake PhD research within the Centre's areas of expertise. Graduate students work in the stimulating research environment of the Centre under the direction of their supervisor.  Initial enquiries should be directed to Professor Alison Liebling or Professor Ben Crewe according to the person’s specific research interests.  More details of the University's PhD programmes and procedures for application can be found on the Institute of Criminology website and the University of Cambridge Graduate Admissions website.

PhD Opportunities with Professor Alison Liebling

Professor Liebling is interested in receiving applications broadly looking at the changing shape and effects of imprisonment; the role of values in criminal justice; the role of safety, trust and fairness in shaping the prison experience, the work of prison officers, and in the prevention of ill-treatment, in the UK or elsewhere.

PhD Opportunities with Professor Ben Crewe

Professor Crewe would be keen to supervise PhD students interested in researching prison social life and culture, prisoner identities and adaptations, prison quality and conditions, and other issues relating to the terms, nature and organisation of imprisonment.  Students wishing to get in contact informally in order to discuss potential research ideas are welcome to email him, with a brief CV and a short research proposal. 

Current and Recent PhD Topics

PhD students work on a variety of topics relating to the research of the Centre. These include: 

  • Transformative encounters in prisoner education and their role in desistance. (Judith Gardom, supervised by Alison Liebling)
  • The social experiences of sex offenders in prison: A comparative analysis. (Alice Ievins, supervised by Ben Crewe)
  • The prison and the city: a tale of two cultures in HMPs Pentonville and Hull (Deborah Kant, supervised by Alison Liebling)
  • Emotions in prison: an exploration of space, emotion regulation and expression. (Ben Laws, supervised by Ben Crewe)
  • Faith, race, gangs and ‘the street’ in prison: An inductive analysis. (Dev Maitra, supervised by Alison Liebling)
  • The experience of imprisonment amongst serving and former military service personnel. (Daniel Packham, supervised by Ben Crewe)
  • Democratizing democracy: Re-imagining prisoners as citizens through participatory governance. (Bethany Schmidt, supervised by Alison Liebling)
  • Philosophy in Prisons: A grounded theory in personal development. (Kirstine Szifris, supervised by Alison Liebling)
  • The role of self-empowerment in the process of human flourishing in prison. (Fabio Tartarini, supervised by Ben Crewe)
  • The Prison Based Forensic Psychologist: in Person and Practice. (Jason Warr, supervised by Ben Crewe)
  • Understanding the use and experience of segregation in English prisons. (Ellie Brown, supervised by Alison Liebling and Nicola Padfield)
  • Opening new prisons: a comparative study of the penal field. (Aiden Cope, supervised by Alison Liebling)
  • Peace Behind a Veil of Ignorance (VOI). (João Costa, supervised by Alison Liebling)
  • Legitimacy in prison-based psychology practices. (Sophie Ellis, supervised by Ben Crewe)
  • Moral development and ethical self-governance among men imprisoned for murder. (Ben Jarman, supervised by Ben Crewe)
  • Caring Encounters: Exploring Kindness and Support among Male Prisoners. (Elinor Lieber, supervised by Alison Liebling)
  • The construction of prisoner masculinities through experiences of work. (Martha Morey, supervised by Ben Crewe)
  • Prison pen-pals: the value of correspondence and support from individuals not known to prisoners prior to their incarceration. (Tania Mejia, supervised by Ben Crewe)
  • A short longitudinal study of life sentenced prisoners’ pre-release expectations and post-release realities. (Ailie Rennie, supervised by Ben Crewe)

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.