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From 2007 - 2010, Professor Ben Crewe and Professor Alison Liebling were co-investigators of an ESRC-funded study of values, practices and outcomes in public and private corrections. The study had two main components:

(1) a comparative evaluation of quality of life, culture and practices in five private sector and two public sector prisons, in England and Wales; and

(2) around 90 interviews with senior managers working in the public and private sectors, focusing in particular on professional values and motivations.

Publications that have arisen from this study include the following:

  • Crewe, B., Liebling, A. and Hulley, S. (2015) 'Staff-Prisoner Relationships, Staff Professionalism, and the Use of Authority in Public- and Private-Sector Prisons', Law and Social Enquiry, 40 (2): 309-344
  • Crewe, B., Liebling, A. and Hulley, S. (2014) 'Heavy-light, absent-present: Re-thinking the weight of imprisonment', British Journal of Sociology
  • Hulley, S., Liebling, A. and Crewe, B. (2012) 'Respect in prisons: Prisoners' experiences of respect in public and private sector prisons' Criminology and Criminal Justice February 2012 12: 3-23
  • Crewe, B., Liebling, A. and Hulley. S. (2011) 'Staff culture, the use of authority, and prisoner outcomes in public and private prisons' Australia and New Zealand Journal of Criminology. 44(1): 94-115.
  • Liebling, A., Crewe, B. and Hulley, S. (2011) 'Values and practices in public and private sector prisons: A summary of key findings from an evaluation', Prison Service Journal, 196, 55-58.

Project 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.