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Institute of Criminology



Over the next three years Ben's ESRC grant will be used to explore the emotional dimensions of segregation units in England and Wales. The study is titled: 

Prisoner Emotions at the Margins: Understanding the pathways to destruction and healing among prisoners in solitary confinement

The main aims of the study are to:

(1) Examine the key dynamics of the emotional world of solitary confinement

Prisoners will be asked about the specific ways they manage emotions (levels of expression, suppression, and emotional ‘reframing’ etc.), and about the intensity and prevalence of different emotions—especially, fear, anger, sadness, anxiety; but also emotions such as joy, care and serenity. The inclusion of both men and women in this study, builds on Ben's previous comparative research, and revises the tendency to treat female prisoners as ‘correctional afterthoughts’.

(2) Explore the emotional ‘pathways’ of prisoners who experience segregation

Little is known about the patterns of emotional development of these marginalized sub-groups over time. In light of this, the study will examine how ‘cycles of infractions’ in situ can potentiate entrenched pathways of violence and long-term patterns of despair. Importantly, O’Donnell (2014: 283) discusses the need to explain ‘triumphs as well as tragedies’. This will be executed by measuring whether managing emotions in particular ways, or learning specific coping strategies, leads to differential developmental outcomes (e.g. ‘healing’, or ‘destructive’ pathways).

Ben’s PhD was supervised by Dr. Ben Crewe. It examined the emotional dimensions of prison life and investigated the ways in which male and female prisoners regulated their emotions. Using a combination of semi-structured interviews and prisoner shadowing, Ben conducted his research in HMP Ranby (a Category C men's prison in Nottinghamshire) and HMP Send (a closed category women's prison in Surrey). Ben hopes to transform these findings into a research monograph in the near future.



Key publications: 

Liebling, A., Laws, B., Lieber, E, et al. (2019) Are hope and possibility achievable in prison?. The Howard Journal of Crime and Justice.

Laws, B. (2018) The Return of the Supressed: Exploring how emotional suppression returns as violence and pain among male and female prisoners. Punishment & Society, 1-18.

Laws, B., and Lieber, E. (under review). King, Warrior, Magician, Lover: Forms of care among male prisoners. The European Journal of Criminology.

Crewe, B., and Laws, B. (2017) 'Subcultural adaptations to incarceration', in J. Wooldredge and P. Smith (eds.) The Oxford Handbook on Prisons and Imprisonment. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Laursen, J. and Laws, B., (2017) ‘Honour and respect in Danish prisons: Contesting 'cognitive distortions' in cognitive-behavioural programmes’. Punishment & Society, 19(1), 74- 95.

Laws, B., & Crewe, B. (2016) ‘Emotion regulation among male prisoners’. Theoretical Criminology, 20(4), 529-547.

Laws, B. (2016) Fronting, masking and emotion release: An exploration of prisoners' emotional management strategies. The Howard League for Penal Reform.

Laws, B. (Forthcoming). In shadows and space: an ethnography of prisoner emotion. The Oxford Handbook on Ethnographies of Crime and Criminal Justice.

Laws, B. (Forthcoming). ‘Where is the love? Unearthing the ‘forgotten’ emotions of prison life’, in V. Knight (ed) Emotions Inside Criminal Justice, Polity Press.



Awards and Funding

2014-2017 ESRC Full award
2015 John Sunley Prize, Howard League of Penal Reform
2014 Joe Petty Prize for Criminology, Wolfson College
2014 Proxime accesserunt for the Manuel López-Rey Graduate Prize, Cambridge.
Research Associate
ESRC New Investigator
Wolfson College Junior Research Fellow
Dr Ben  Laws