Dr. Ruth Armstrong

Senior Research Associate

British Academy Post-Doctoral Fellow

St. John's College Research Associate


What happens to us, individually, when we connect with others, socially? My research looks at how people rebuild their lives after being convicted of criminal offences. I have especially focused on the role of faith, faith communities, locating and building trust and interactions between identity, agency, social structures and criminal justice practices. I have studied people's experiences of this process in high security prisons when they have many years to serve and sometimes when release is unlikely or impossible, and also as people are released from prison and during the years immediately after release. Building on this, my current research, funded by the British Academy, involves the implementation and evaluation of 'Learning Together', an initiative whereby university students and prisoners study together within a prison. The course design is informed by intergroup contact theory, desistance theory and educational theories of how learners reach their full potential. It aims to look at the consequences of curating spaces of connection and learning within secure environments and beyond. For more information on Learning Together, to get involved or to start a course from your university please contact me on

I have previously taught Criminal Law and Sentencing and the Penal System. I currently teach on the M.St in Applied Criminology, Penology and Management. While at Cambridge I have helped to set up and run a death penalty internship for Cambridge students to work with lawyers in the USA and the Cambridge University Investigating Innocence Project. I am interested in desistance, in social responses to crime and people convicted of criminal offences, in the work of volunteers and the voluntary sector in criminal justice, in how trust develops, how it manifests and how it shapes and is shaped by social relations, as well as intersections between theology, sociology and criminology. I also have an enduring interest in the death penalty, especially in the USA, and occasionally lecture on the topic.


  • Ludlow, A., Armstrong, R. and Bartels, L. 'Theory, reflexivity and localism in prison and university learning partnerships' (forthcoming, Journal of Prison Education and Reentry, 2018).
  • Evans, G., Price, E., Ludlow, A., Armstrong, R., and Maruna, S. with Reed, J. (2017) 'Spending time on death row' in H. Toch, J. Acker and V. Bonventre (eds.) Living on Death Row (American Psychological Association: New York).
  • Halsey, M., Armstrong, R. and Wright, S. (2016) '"F*ck it": Matza and the Mood of Fatalism in the Desistance Process', British Journal of Criminology, 57(5) 1041-1060.
  • Armstrong, R. and Durnescu, I. (eds) (forthcoming, 2016) Curtailed Freedom: International Perspectives of Life on Parole, London: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Armstrong, R. and Ludlow, A. (forthcoming, 2016) 'Educational Partnerships Between Universities and Prisons: How Learning Together can be Individually, Socially and Institutionally Transformative' Prison Service Journal.
  • Armstrong, R. and Maruna, S. (2016) 'Examining Imprisonment through a Social Justice Lens' in What Is Justice: Reimagining Penal Policy, Eds. Steven Farrall, Barry Goldson, Ian Loader and Anita Dockley, London: Routledge.
  • Armstrong, R. (2014) 'Transforming Rehabilitation: Can faith-communities help to reduce reoffending?' in Prison Service Journal, no. 216: 3-12.
  • Armstrong, R., Crewe, B. and Gelsthorpe, L., (2014). 'From paper ethics to real world research: supervising risk in research with the 'risky'', in Reflexivity in Criminological Research: Experiences with the powerful and the powerless', Eds. Karen Lumsden and Aaron Winter, London: Palgrave.
  • Armstrong, R., (2014). 'Trusting Imperfection: The theology, practice and implications of faith-based volunteers' work with ex-prisoners', Studies in Christian Ethics, 27(3).
  • Armstrong, R. (2014) 'Transforming Rehabilitation: Can faith-communities help to reduce reoffending?' Prison Service Journal (Nov, 2014) (216) at p 3-12.
  • Trusting the Untrustworthy: The Theology, Practice and Implications of Faith-Based Volunteers’ Work with Ex-Prisoners, Studies in Christian Ethics August 2014 vol. 27 no. 3 299-309
  • From Paper Ethics to Real World Research: Supervising Ethical Reflexivity When Taking Risks in Research with 'The Risky'; Ruth Armstrong, Loraine Gelsthorpe and Ben Crewe in Reflexivity in Criminological Research Experiences with the Powerful and the Powerless edited by Karen Lumsden, Aaron Winter, September 2014, Palgrave Macmillan

Films and Media

Jogging With Jody: After prison can you build a life on your own?

poster minatureJogging with Jody: After prison, can you build a new life on your own

This new short documentary tells the story of the first year of one man's life after prison. Josh has served numerous prison sentences, the last of which was an 8 year sentence extended for public protection. He is registered as a priority prolific offender. The police advised his probation officer that she would probably recall him within 3 hours of release from prison. This is his story of the ups and downs of life after prison, how he started to work with a volunteer mentor, Jody, and how the trust they built helped him to be honest about his present and hopeful for his future.

The short film premieres at the Cambridge Arts Picture House at 5pm on Monday 20th October (through the Festival of Ideas) as one of five 'Cambridge Shorts' productions, communicating early academics' research findings in innovative ways through film.

On Tuesday 21st October at 5.30pm it will be shown at the Institute of Criminology, Cambridge. This showing will include a companion film: reflections on film one from leading academics in desistance and from the directors of Community Led Initiatives (the volunteer mentor organisation). Film two explains the aspects of Josh's story that are common themes in desistance research. It shows how Community Led Initiatives train volunteers in mentoring that works alongside probation to support desistance and the important work of the local council in providing employment opportunities. After the showing there will be a Q&A with a panel including Josh, Jody, CLI Directors Peter Atherton and Matthew Kidd, leading desistance scholar Professor Sir Anthony Bottoms and filmmaker Kip Loads. There will be wine and nibbles to follow and the chance for more informal chats.

Watch Jogging With Jody Part One and Part Two.

Leaving Prison in Faith

Part One: Hopes

Dr Ruth Armstrong meets a Christian man and a Muslim man as they prepare to leave HMPYOI Feltham in London and a Christian woman and a Muslim woman as they prepare to leave HMPYOI Styal. In these films you meet the four protagonists of the films in their prison cells and hear of their hopes for themselves, their faith and the role of faith communities outside the prison as they face the prospect of release.

Watch Part One

Part Two: Connections

In this second film Dr Ruth Armstrong looks at the work of chaplaincy teams in prisons trying to connect with faith communities outside of the prison to support four people who are about to leave prison. We return to the four people we met in the first film, a Christian man and a Muslim man in HMPYOI Feltham and a Christian and Muslim woman in HMPYOI Styal, and think about the connections they are building while inside that might be able to support them post release. In Feltham we hear the prison chaplains discussing some of the difficulties involved in sustaining positive relationships through the gate, and we meet a young Muslim woman working as a mentor for one man in the film. In Styal we follow one prisoner as she leaves prison for the day to go to work and meet up with a pastor of a church. The film encourages us to think about the role of connections pre-release to a smoother path post-release.

Watch Part Two

Part Three: Community

In this final film of the trilogy, we return to find out what has happened to the Christian and Muslim men and women we first met in HMPYOI Feltham and HMPYOI Styal now that they are no longer in prison. We hear about some of the struggles they have faced since release from prison. We consider the role that faith communities have played in their journeys out of prison, and think about whether it could be possible for faith communities to work more effectively with chaplaincy teams to support people through the gate.

Watch Part Three