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The Role of the Governing Govenor


Professor Ben Crewe and Professor Alison Liebling continue to undertake interviews with prison governors working in England and Wales, and some other jurisdictions, as part of their study of The role of the governor, commissioned by NOMS. The interviews build on research that they began as part of a previous study in 2007-8, and have effectively continued since that period. The findings from the recent study cover two main areas:

  • first, how governors are feeling about changes to their role, including reductions in their discretion, an increased emphasis on contract management, and lower levels of staffing;
  • second, what constitutes ‘good governing’, including the skills, values and orientations that are appropriate to the changing nature of the governing role. Among the key themes emerging from the study are: the complex flows of loyalty between governors and the wider organization; the importance of congruence between organizational values and actions; the perceived relevance of gender and forms of informal patronage in determining career progression; the emotional components of governing, and of supporting governors; the increasing need for relational skills in order to manage contract partners as well as staff sentiments during a time of rapid flux; the difficulties of coping with the increasingly complex demands of the job, including feelings of failure as prison performance becomes harder to maintain; and the value of a form of ‘creative compliance’ in order to ‘get the job done’.

The findings are being disseminated, including at the public sector Prison Service governing governors forum, in May 2015, and in the article titled ‘Governing governors’, in the Prison Service Journal.


Research Members:

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.