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Professor Ben Crewe

Professor Ben Crewe

Professor of Penology and Criminal Justice

Office Phone: +44 (0)1223 763914


Ben Crewe is a Professor of Penology and Criminal Justice and Deputy Director of the Prisons Research Centre. He is on the editorial board of the British Journal of Criminology, Law and Social Inquiry and the Prison Service Journal, and is an International Associate Board member of Punishment and Society. He is one of the series editors of Palgrave Studies in Prisons and Penology (with Yvonne Jewkes and Thomas Ugelvik) and is a Trustee of the Prison Reform Trust. In recent years, Ben’s main research projects have included an ESRC-funded study of values, practices and outcomes in public and private sector corrections (with Alison Liebling); an ESRC-funded study of prisoners serving very long sentences from an early age (with Susie Hulley and Serena Wright); a NOMS-funded study of the role of prison governors (with Alison Liebling); and a five-year, €2 million research project titled 'Penal policymaking and the prisoner experience: a comparative analysis', which involves extensive fieldwork in England & Wales and Norway.Ben is interested in almost all aspects of prison life, including the prisoner experience, prison social life and culture, penal power, staff-prisoner relationships, prison management and penal policy, prison quality, and the impact of political, economic and cultural factors on the nature of imprisonment.

Ben joined the department in 2001, as a post-doctoral fellow. He holds a PhD from the University of Essex, an MSc in Sociology from London School of Economics, and an MA from the University of Cambridge, where he studies Social and Political Sciences.

Research Interests

Ben is currently leading a five-year European Research Council consolidator grant, worth just under €2 million, titled: Penal policymaking and the prisoner experience: a comparative analysis.

The research is based in England & Wales, and Norway, and involves four inter-related studies of (a) penal policymaking and the penal field (b) the experience of entry into and release from custody (c) the daily experiences of female prisoners and imprisoned sex offenders, and (d) prisoners in the most secure parts of each jurisdiction's prison system.

This project is funded by the European Research Council (ERC).

Experiencing very long term imprisonment from young adulthood

From 2013-2016, Ben was principal investigator of 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, Dr Serena Wright).

This study involved interviews with just under 150 male and female prisoners serving life sentences with tariffs of fifteen years or more, sentenced when aged 25 or under, and the collection of over 300 surveys from a wider group of individuals who met these criteria, in 25 establishments overall, including young offender institutions, high-security prisons, category B and C prisons, and open prisons. Our key objective was to understand (a) the main problems encountered by these prisoners, and the ways in which they dealt with these problems (b) how prisoners serving such sentences build a life for themselves while imprisoned for such long periods (c) the degree to which such prisoners consider their predicament to be legitimate or illegitimate, and the impact of such perceptions on adaptation, compliance and resistance. A book based on this study will be published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2019.

Publications that have arisen from this study include the following:

Publications that have arisen from this study include the following:

Crewe, B., Hulley, S. and Wright, S. (forthcoming – contracted for December 2017) Life Imprisonment from Young Adulthood: Time, Identity and Adaptation. London: Palgrave Macmillan

Crewe, B., Hulley, S. and Wright, S. (2017) ‘The gendered pains of life imprisonment’, British Journal of Criminology. 57(6), 1359-1378

Wright, S., Crewe, B. and Hulley, S. (2016) 'Suppression, denial, sublimation: Defending against the intitial pains of very long life sentences’ Theoretical Criminology, 21(2), 225-246, doi: 10.1177/1362480616643581

Crewe, B., Hulley, S. and Wright, S. (2016) ‘Swimming with the tide: adapting to long-term imprisonment’, Justice Quarterly. 34(3), 517-541.

Hulley, S., Crewe, B. and Wright, S. (2016) 'Re-examining the problems of long-term imprisonment', British Journal of Criminology, 56(4), 769-792.

Crewe, B., Liebling, A., Padfield, N. and Virgo, G. (2015) ‘Joint Enterprise: the implications of an unfair and unclear law’, Criminal Law Review Issue 4, 252-269

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.

Key Publications

  • Crewe, B., Liebling, A. (2018) ‘Quality, professionalism, and the distribution of power in public and private sector prisons’, in Hucklesby, A. and Lister, S. (eds) The Private Sector and Criminal Justice, 161-194
  • Crewe, B., Liebling, A., and Hulley, S. (2014) 'Staff-prisoner relationships, staff professionalism and the use of authority in public and private sector prisons', Law and Social Inquiry, 40(2), 309-344
  • Liebling, A. and Crewe, B. (2014) ‘Staff-prisoner relationships, moral performance, and privatisation’, in McNeill, F. and Durnescu, I. (eds) Understanding Penal Practices
  • Crewe, B., Liebling, A. and Hulley, S. (2014) 'Heavy-light, absent-present: Re-thinking the ‘weight’ of imprisonment', British Journal of Sociology 65 (3), 387-410
  • Armstrong, R., Gelsthorpe, L. and Crewe, B. (2014) ‘From paper ethics to real world research: supervising ethical reflexivity in when taking risks in research with ‘the risky’’, in K. Lumsden, and A. Winter (eds) Reflexivity in Criminological Research Experiences with the Powerful and Powerless. Basingstoke: Palgrave, Macmillan
  • Crewe, B. (2013) ‘Compliance in prisons’, in Raynor, P. and Ugwudike, P. (eds) What Works in Offender Compliance? International Perspectives and Evidence-Based Practice, Basingstoke: Palgrave, Macmillan
  • Liebling, A. and Crewe, B. (2013) ‘Prisons beyond the new penology: the shifting moral foundations of prison management’, in J. Simon and R. Sparks (eds) Handbook of Punishment and Society. London: Sage
  • Liebling, A. and Crewe, B. (2013) ‘Prison life, penal power, and prison effects’, in M. Maguire, R. Morgan, and R. Reiner (eds) The Oxford Handbook of Criminology. Oxford: OUP
  • 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, 12(1), 3-23
  • Crewe, B., Liebling, A. and Hulley. S. (2011) 'Staff culture, the use of authority, and prisoner quality of life in public and private sector 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.

Other Publications

  • Crewe, B. and Laws, B. (2018) ‘Subcultural adaptations to incarceration’, in J. Wooldredge and P. Smith (eds.) The Oxford Handbook of Prisons and Imprisonment. Oxford: OUP
  • Morey, M. and Crewe, B. (2018) ‘Work, intimacy and prisoner masculinities’, in Maycock, M and Hunt, K (eds.) (2017) New Perspectives on Prison Masculinities. London: Palgrave Macmillan
  • Crewe, B. and Liebling, A. (2017) ‘Reconfiguring penal power’, in A. Liebling, S. Maruna, S. and L. McAra (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Criminology, Oxford: OUP.
  • Jewkes, Y., Bennett, J. and Crewe, B. (eds.) (2016) The Handbook on Prisons. London: Routledge.
  • Laws, B. and Crewe, B. (2016) ‘Emotion regulation among male prisoners’ Theoretical Criminology, 20(4), 529-547, doi: 10.1177/1362480615622532
  • Ievins, A. and Crewe, B. (2015) ‘Nobody’s better than you, nobody’s worse than you’: Moral community among prisoners convicted of sexual offences’ Punishment and Society, 17(4), 482-501
  • Crewe, B. (2015) 'Inside the belly of the beast: understanding the experience of imprisonment', The International Journal for Crime, Justice and Social Democracy. 4(1), 50-65
  • Crewe, B. and Ievins, A (2015) ‘Closeness, distance and honesty in prison research’, in D. Drake, R. Earle, and J. Sloan (eds) The International Handbook of Prison Ethnography. London: Palgrave, 124-142
  • Crewe, B. (2014) 'Not looking hard enough: masculinity, emotion and prison research', Qualitative Inquiry, 20(4), 392-403
  • Crewe, B., Bennett, P., Smith, A. and Warr, J. (2014) 'The emotional geography of prison life', Theoretical Criminology, 18(1), 1 56-74
  • Crewe, B. and Bennett, J. (eds.) (2012) The Prisoner. London: Routledge.
  • Crewe, B. (2011) ‘Depth, weight, tightness: Revisiting the pains of imprisonment’, Punishment and Society, 13(5), 509-529.
  • Crewe, B. (2011) ‘Soft power in prison: Implications for staff-prisoner relationships, liberty and legitimacy’, European Journal of Criminology, 8(6), 455-468