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Tijdschrift PROCES x Jaar 2010 x

    How can the social environment of a prison be accurately assessed? Why is it important to measure? How should the prison experience be represented in empirical research? How do we capture distinctions between prisons, which can be good or bad in so many different ways? There is considerable consensus about the inadequacy of narrow and selective performance measures, such as hours spent in purposeful activity or serious assaults, in representing prison quality. The difficulties are both methodological and conceptual. This paper will outline one attempt to address these questions in England and Wales. Based on a series of studies aimed at identifying and measuring aspects of prison life that ‘matter most’, prisoners describe stark differences in the moral and emotional climates of prisons serving apparently similar functions. The ‘differences that matter’ are in the domain of interpersonal relationships and treatment. A developmental programme of empirical research on the quality of life in prison suggests that (a) some prisons are more survivable than others and (b) important differences in identifiable aspects of prison quality exist and may be related to outcomes. These findings have implications for our understanding of the meaning of terms like ‘inhuman and degrading’ treatment as well as for our uses and expectations of the prison.


Alison Liebling
Alison Liebling is hoogleraar Criminology & Criminal Justice aan de Universiteit van Cambridge en is directeur van het Prison Research Centre.
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