skip to content

Principal Investigator:         

Professor Ben Crewe

(University of Cambridge)

Ben Crewe 150x150


Dr Susie Hulley (University of Cambridge)


Susie Hulley 150x150

Dr Serena Wright

(Royal Holloway, University of London)

Serena Wright 150x150


Twitter: @LifeImprisonmnt

In April 2020, the project team began working on their new ESRC-funded study of life imprisonment from a young age, building on findings from their earlier research, Experiencing Very Long-Term Imprisonment from Young Adulthood.

The current study adopts a longitudinal perspective to follow-up more than 140 men and women interviewed between 2013-14 about their experiences of being given very long custodial terms (minimum tariffs of 15 years or more) at a young age (25 years or younger). While most of the follow-up interviews will be conducted within prisons, we also hope to re-interview the 30 men and women from our original sample who have been released into the community on life licence.

Briefly, the core objectives of the study are as follows:

  • To detail the lived experience of a set of prisoners - and former-prisoners - about whom very little is known among practitioners and academics, and whose voices tend to be marginal in academic, policy and media discussions of new sentencing and punishment practices.
  • To provide longitudinal insight into the experience and impact of long-term confinement from a young age, using both qualitative and quantitative research methods.
  • To provide a nuanced and thorough examination of the ways in which individuals reflexively engage with their long life sentence and their murder conviction, and the ways in which such reflection is undertaken relationally (i.e. with others). This will involve a focussed interview technique, grounded in Archer's (2003, 2012) theoretical framework, exploring the specific ways in which individuals - both on their own and with various relational interlocuters - plan, rehearse, mull-over, decide, re-live, prioritise, imagine and hold imaginary conversations, relating to their personal projects and concerns.
  • To explore the subjective experience of the distance and polarity between the prison and the outside world (‘depth’), drawing attention to the role of the prison in prisoners' life trajectories, and the existential meaning of such long-term sentences overall.
  • To examine the experience of release from a long-life sentence, including the transition from custody to community, sources of hope, control and meaning, the impact of long-term custody on subjectivity, identity and relational life post-release, and the ongoing relationship between the institution of imprisonment and the society in which it is embedded.

We also aim to contribute to policy and practice in relation to long term and life imprisonment, specifically by using empirically grounded evidence to inform policy makers and senior HMPPS officials about how the identities, orientations, preoccupations and needs of this population change during their sentences, and the impact of different prison environments on their personal trajectories within and beyond the prison.

Planned dissemination activities:

  • In conjunction with Ryuuza, a UK-based illustrator, development of a small graphic comic-style booklet, aimed at newly life-sentenced prisoners, which represents the journey of a ‘lifer’ as described through participants in Experiencing Very Long-Term Imprisonment from Young Adulthood.
  • Co-creating a special guest episode of the Secret Life of Prisons podcast on life imprisonment, in conjunction with the Prison Reform Trust and the Prison Radio Association.  
  • Following on from Life Imprisonment from Young Adulthood – a copy of which we plan to gift each returning interviewee – we are aiming to write an open-access monograph based on the findings and analysis of the current study.
  • Production of brief in-house report at the conclusion of the study, intended for all participating prisoners and as many UK prisons as possible.
  • Hosting a project symposium to discuss emerging findings and holding a final one-day conference for practitioners, senior personal and academic to present the analysis and findings at the end of the study.
  • Continued publication in non-academic outlets, following on from previous pieces for Inside Time (‘The Long Road’; ), the Centre for Crime & Justice Studies (‘The gendered pains of imprisonment’), and Prison Watch UK (‘Gender and the pains of long life imprisonment’).

List of publications from Experiencing Very Long-Term Imprisonment from Young Adulthood:


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

The book has been reviewed in a number of journals, including: Kriminologie - Das Online-Journal;  Theoretical Criminology; Punishment & Society; Social & Legal Studies, and the British Journal of Criminology.


Peer-reviewed papers and chapter:

Wright, S., Hulley, S. and Crewe, B. (in press). The pains of life imprisonment during late adolescence and emerging adulthood. In L. Abrams and A. Cox (Eds.) The Palgrave International Handbook of Youth Imprisonment. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Hulley, S., Crewe, B. and 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. and Wright, S. (2017). The gendered pains of life imprisonment, British Journal of Criminology, 57(6), 1359-1378.

Crewe, B., Hulley, S. and Wright, S. (2017). Swimming with the tide: adapting to long-term imprisonment, Justice Quarterly, 34(3), 517-541.

Wright, S., Crewe, B. and Hulley, S. (2016). Suppression, denial, sublimation: Defending against the initial pains of very long life sentences, Theoretical Criminology, 21(2), 225-246.

Hulley, S., Crewe, B. and Wright, S. (2016). Re-examining the problems of long-term imprisonment, British Journal of Criminology, 56(4), 769-792.

Analytical summaries and other non-peer reviewed publications

Crewe, B., Hulley, S. and Wright, S. (2019). Long-term imprisonment from young adulthood (National Offender Management Service Analytic Summary 2019). London, UK: HMPPS / Ministry of Justice.

Crewe, B., Hulley, S. and Wright, S (2019). What should happen to people who commit murder? In A. Fox and A. Frater (Eds.) Crime and Consequence: What should happen to commit who commit criminal offences? (pp.281-287). London, UK: CLINKS / Monument Trust.


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.