Reconfiguring long-term and high-security imprisonment

Wandsworth Prison (credit: Derek Harper/CC BY-SA 2.0)

A programme of research on long-term and high-security imprisonment undertaken by Alison Liebling and colleagues in the Prisons Research Centre (PRC) at the University of Cambridge has had a very significant impact on the management of high-security prisons and long-term prisoners in England and Wales.

This work is of particular relevance at a time when an increasing number of prisoners are serving very long sentences, in conditions that are significantly different from those described in the 1970s and 80s, when studies of long-term imprisonment were more common.

In particular, their research has led to changes to re-categorisation and parole processes, and to sentence management practices. It has also led to improvements in staff–prisoner relationships through the promotion of a ‘rehabilitative culture’ designed to reduce violence and contribute positively to human survival, personal growth and hope among long-term and high-security prisoners.

The research has influenced discussion of the use of joint enterprise sentencing leading to changes in sentencing practices and a number of appeals. The team has also been central to re-thinking the strategic priorities of the Prison Reform Trust, and in helping it obtain and plan a major, five-year grant from the National Lottery Community Fund to fund a programme of research, advocacy, reform and public/political engagement in this area.

“[this research] has had a direct and profound impact on the development of operational policy and management of long sentenced prisoners across the prison estate.”

– Former Chief Executive of the National Offender Management Service and HM Prison and Probation Service