Dr. Ben Crewe

Deputy Director of the Prisons Research Centre and Director, M.St. Penology Programme

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Ben was recently awarded a five-year European Research Council consolidator grant, worth just under €2 million, to undertake a research programme titled: Penal policymaking and the prisoner experience: a comparative analysis. The research will be based in England and Wales and one of the Nordic countries, and will involve studies of penal policymaking and the penal field, the experiences of female prisoners, imprisoned sex offenders, and prisoners in the most secure parts of each jurisdiction's prison system.

Experiencing very long term imprisonment from young adulthood

Ben is currently directing a major study of prisoners serving very long sentences from an early age, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (co-investigator, Dr Susie Hulley; research assistant, Ms Serena Wright - see

This study has involved interviews with 125 male prisoners serving life sentences with tariffs of fifteen years or more, sentenced when aged 25 or under, and the collection of 295 surveys from a wider group of men who meet these criteria, in sixteen establishments overall, including young offender institutions, high-security prisons, category B and C prisons, and open prisons. In the coming months, our aim is to begin writing up the study while also interviewing the small number of female prisoners in the England and Wales prison system who also meet our criteria. We are also developing a research proposal in the hope of securing access to interviewing both men and women serving these sentences who have been transferred to secure psychiatric hospitals. Funding for this additional work has been provided by The Newton Trust.

Publications that have arisen from this study include the following:

Wright, S., Crewe, B. and Hulley, S. (under review) 'Suppression, denial, sublimation: early adaptations to long-term imprisonment'

Hulley, S., Crewe, B. and Wright, S. (in press) 'Re-examining the problems of long-term imprisonment', British Journal of Criminology'

Values, Practices and outcomes in public and private corrections

From 2007-2010, Ben was co-investigator (with Professor Alison Liebling) 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, focussing in particular on professional values and motivations.

Publications that have arisen from this study include the following:

  • Crewe, B., Liebling, A., Hulley, S. And McLean, S. (in press) 'Staff-prisoner relationships, staff professionalism and the use of authority in public and private sector prisons', Law and Social Inquiry
  • Crewe, B.., Liebling, A. and Hulley, S. (in press) '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.

The Prisoner Society

From 2001-2004, Ben conducted a semi-ethnographic study of the everyday social world of an English Prison, based on a ten-month fieldwork period in HMP Wellingborough, a medium-security men's training establishment. The study was published as a research monograph by Oxford University Press (2009), titled: The Prisoner Society: Power, Adaptation and Social Life in an English Prison. Publications that have arisen from this study include the following:

 The book has been reviewed in a number of journals:

Miscellaneous Research

Along with Professor Alison Liebling, Ben has recently been conducting a further set of interviews with governing governors in the England and Wales prison system, as part of the Prison Service's body of research and thinking on 'the role of the governing governor'.

Ben participates regularly in 'MQPL+' exercises, in which a team of researchers from the Prisons Research Centre use.