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Institute of Criminology



I joined the Institute in 2001, as a post-doctoral fellow, having trained as a sociologist as an undergraduate at Cambridge, a Masters student at London School of Economics, and a PhD student at the University of Essex. I am interested in almost all aspects of prison life, in particular 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. I welcome interest from PhD students who wish to conduct research in these areas.

My current research projects include a five-year, €2 million research project titled 'Penal policy making and the prisoner experience: a comparative analysis', which has involved extensive fieldwork in England & Wales and Norway and an ESRC-funded study of prisoners serving very long sentences from an early age (with Susie Hulley and Serena Wright). Previous research projects include an ESRC-funded study of values, practices and outcomes in public and private sector corrections (with Alison Liebling) and a NOMS-funded study of the role of prison governors (with Alison Liebling).

I am one of the founding editors of the journal Incarceration, and am an International Associate Board member of Punishment and Society and Theoretical Criminology. I am also one of the series editors of Palgrave Studies in Prisons and Penology (with Yvonne Jewkes and Thomas Ugelvik) and a Trustee of the Prison Reform Trust.


Current Research Projects

Penal policymaking and the prisoner experience: a comparative analysis.

I am currently leading the final phase of 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.

Publications arising from the study so far include the following:

Life-imprisonment from young adulthood

Along with Dr Susie Hulley (University of Cambridge) and Dr Serena Wright (Royal Holloway, University of London), I am now in the early stage of a study of prisoners serving very long sentences from an early age. Funded by the ESRC, this project is a longitudinal follow-up of the research we undertook from 2013-16, in which we interviewed just under 150 male and female prisoners serving life sentences with tariffs of fifteen years or more, sentenced when aged 25 or under. We also collected 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 was published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2020.

The new study will involve us seeking to re-interview all of our original participants, to find out what has gone on since our initial interview. In particular, we are interested in changes in self-identity, coping strategies, orientations to both the sentence and the offence, and relationships within and beyond the prison. Around 30 of our original interviewees have now been released into the community on life licence, so we will also be looking to find out about their experiences of release.

Publications that have arisen from this study so far include the following:

  • Crewe, B., Hulley, S. and Wright, S. (2020). Life Imprisonment from Young Adulthood: Adaptation, Identity and Time. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

The book has been reviewed in a number of journals:

Theoretical Criminology:

Punishment & Society:

British Journal of Criminology

  • Wright, S., Hulley, S. and Crewe, B. (under review). Trajectories of hope and fatalism in the late stage of a life sentence.
  • Crewe, B., Hulley, S., and Wright, S. (2019). ‘The Long View’, Bromley Briefings. Prison Reform Trust.
  • Crewe, B., Hulley, S., and Wright, S. (2019), ‘Experiencing long term imprisonment from young adulthood: identity, adaptation and penal legitimacy’. Ministry of Justice Analytical Series. Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service.
  • Wright, S., Hulley, S. and Crewe, B. (in press) ‘The pains of life imprisonment during late adolescence and emerging adulthood’, in Abrams, L. and Cox, A. (eds) Handbook on Young People and imprisonment. London: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Crewe, B., Hulley, S. and Wright, S (2019) ‘What should happen to people who commit murder’, in Fox, A. and Frater, A. (eds.) Crime and Consequence, 281-287
  • Hulley, S., Crewe, B. and Wright, S. (2019) Making sense of ‘Joint Enterprise’ for murder: legal legitimacy or instrumental acquiescence? British Journal of Criminology, 59(6), 1328-1346
  • Crewe, B., Hulley, S. and Wright, S. (2019) ‘Long-term imprisonment from young adulthood’, National Offender Management Service analytic summary.
  • Crewe, B., Hulley, S. and Wright, S. (2017) ‘The gendered pains of life imprisonment’, British Journal of Criminology. 57(6), 1359-1378

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: 

A full list of my publications is available here.

  • Crewe, B. (2020) ‘Afterword’, in Turner, J. and Knight, V. (eds.) The Cell. London: Palgrave, Macmillan.
  • Liebling, A., Laws, B., Lieber, E., Auty, K., Schmidt, B., Crewe, B., Gardom, J., Kant, D. and Morey, M. (2019) ‘Are Hope and Possibility Achievable in Prison?’ The Howard Journal of Crime and Justice, DOI: 10.1111/hojo.12303
  • Crewe, B. (2018) ‘Process and insight in prison ethnography’, in Rice, S. and Maltz, M. (eds.) Doing Ethnography in Criminology: Discovery through Fieldwork. New York: Springer International Publishing. 83-89.
  • 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
Professor of Penology and Criminal Justice and Deputy Director of the Prisons Research Centre.
Professor Ben  Crewe

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