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Institute of Criminology



Alison Liebling is Professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of Cambridge and the Director of the Institute of Criminology’s Prisons Research Centre. After completing an MA in Criminology at Hull University, for which she was granted a distinction, Alison worked on a study of young offender throughcare with Professor Keith Bottomley from 1986-7, before undertaking her PhD on suicides in prison at the Cambridge Institute of Criminology. During the years 1991-2000 she attracted research fellowships from Trinity Hall, Leverhulme and the ESRC (rated 'outstanding'), enabling her to carry out research on staff-prisoner relationships, the work of prison officers, vulnerability to suicide, small units for difficult prisoners, incentives and earned privileges, and prison privatization.

Her main interests lie in the changing shape and effects of imprisonment; the role of values in criminal justice; and in the role of safety, trust and fairness in shaping the prison experience.

She has carried out a significant programme of research on measuring the moral quality of prison life, the effectiveness of suicide prevention strategies in prison, and values, practices and outcomes in public and private sector corrections. This cumulative body of work, with others, has suggested that the concept of 'personal development' may function as an intermediate outcome measure when evaluating the effects of prison sentences. She is particularly interested in the role of prison officers, in general, but also in bridging the 'gap' between interventions and the prison environment. Her most recent research is on prison privatization, and staff-prisoner relationships and prisoner social organisation in high security prisons.

She has recently been awarded new research contracts to explore the measurement and conceptualization of prison climates and cultures, an evaluation of drug recovery wings (with a team from York University), and the building of trust in high security settings.

She has 7 current PhD students. She is interested in receiving future PhD applications in the areas above, or in areas related to the prison experience, the work of prison officers, and in the prevention of ill-treatment, in the UK or elsewhere.

Alison has published several books, including Suicides in Prison (1992), Prisons and their Moral Performance: A Study of Values, Quality and Prison Life (2004) and (with Shadd Maruna) The Effects of Imprisonment (2005). She has also published widely in criminological journals. She has recently completed a repeat of a highly regarded study of staff-prisoner relationships at Whitemoor high security prison, which explored the changing nature of high security prison dynamics, as well as a second edition of her book, The Prison Officer, and an edited collection on prison officers and prison culture (in the European Journal of Criminology), in which she reflects on what is distinctive about the work, skills and expertise of prison officers.


Professor Liebling has conducted a wide range of empirical research in prisons, including studies of young offender throughcare; an evaluation of two small units for difficult prisoners in Scotland; an evaluation of Wolds private remand centre; an evaluation of incentives and earned privileges; an ethnographic study of staff-prisoner relationships; a study of the decision-making process on discretionary life sentence panels; an evaluation of close supervision centres for difficult prisoners; and several studies on measuring the quality of prison life. She has carried out a detailed evaluation of the relationship between prison quality and prison suicide, a study of prolific self-harm at Peterborough Prison, and the development of a quality of life survey for prison staff. Her current research includes a detailed study of values, practices and outcomes in public and private sector corrections (funded by the ESRC) and a repeat of the study of staff-prisoner relationships at HMP Whitemoor.

Professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice
Director of the Prisons Research Centre
Director of the Ph.D. Programme
Professor Alison  Liebling

Contact Details

+44 (0)1223 335371)