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Research project


Imprisonment is currently the most severe sanction applied in the criminal justice systems of European countries. In most countries, the imprisonment rate has increased in the past decades. In the Netherlands, more than 30,000 people per year are detained in the prison of a penitentiary institution (PI). Despite its importance in crime prevention, however, there is surprisingly little knowledge about the determinants, execution, and (collateral) effects of imprisonment.

Paul Nieuwbeerta

At the Institute for Criminal Law and Criminology at Leiden University, several research projects aim to gain more insight into imprisonment. These projects include:

1. Life In Custody Study (LIC Study)
2. Visitation in Dutch Prisons
3. Social Networks In Prison (SNIP)
4. Psychosocial and neurobiological characteristics of male detainees in the Netherlands and Dutch Caribbean
5. Measuring the quality of life at PI Norgerhaven
6. Prison Project
7. Desistance from crime: a qualitative longitudinal analysis of the process of desistance among long term prisoners in the Netherlands.
8. In a job, out of trouble?
9. Detrimental or beneficial effects of imprisonment?
10. Parenthood & Imprisonment
11. The role of human rights in the outsourcing of confinement in a globalizing world


1. Life In Custody Study (LIC Study)

Period: mid 2016 - mid 2020

The Life in Custody (LIC) Study comprises a large-scale research project into prison climate and the quality of prison life in Dutch prisons. The project is a collaboration between Leiden University and the Dutch Prison Service. The aim of the project is to gain a better understanding of the relationship between prison climate and prisoner behavior, well-being, staff culture, and recidivism. The Prison Climate Questionnaire gives insight in six domains of prison climate, including safety, autonomy, relationships inside the prison, meaningful activities, facilities, and contacts with the outside world. With a large team of researchers, we approached all male and female prisoners across different regimes (pre-trial, regular prison regimes, extra-care unites, persistent offender units, terrorist units, minimum security units, and police detainees) in 28 Dutch prisons (response rate: 81%). The survey data will be matched to data from registration systems for further information on background characteristics, behavior in prison, institutional characteristics, and recidivism. The sample consists of 4,534 prisoners. Sub-projects of the LIC Study conduct further research into prison visits and social networks of prisoners. For further information about the LIC study you can contact the researchers through LIC-study@law.leidenuniv.nl.

Researchers involved: Dr. Anouk Bosma (principal investigator), Dr. Esther van Ginneken (principal investigator), Dr. Hanneke Palmen (principal investigator), Prof. Dr. Paul Nieuwbeerta, Maria Berghuis MSc., Amanda Pasma MSc., Dr. Miranda Sentse


2. Visitation in Dutch Prisons

(part of the LIC Study)

Period: spring 2017 – fall 2020

Visitation is an integral part of prison life. Prisoners report that visitation is one of the most important aspects of their imprisonment. Additionally, visitation protects against social isolation since visits are the only way for prisoners to see their family and friends while imprisoned. Through these visits prisoners can keep in contact with their loved ones which may have an effect on behavior both during imprisonment and after release. There is little known about visitation in the Netherlands. For that reason, this project will firstly identify who gets visited. More specifically, the circumstances which make visitation more or less likely for prisoners will be examined. The second part of this research project will consider the possible effects that visitation has on behavior during imprisonment and after release. In particular, the effects of visitation on the well-being of prisoners, misconduct, recidivism and the reintegration process will be studied.

In order to answer these research questions, data will be used from the Life in Custody Study. This study includes survey data and administrative data from the prisons. Additional data was also collected on the set-up and organization of visitation in Dutch prisons.

Researchers involved: Maria Berghuis MSc. (PhD student), Dr. Hanneke Palmen (copromotor) & Prof. Dr. Paul Nieuwbeerta (promotor)


3. Social Networks In Prison

(SNIP, part of the LIC Study)

Period: spring 2017-current

The aim of this subproject is to gain insight into the social relations between prisoners within prison units. Who gets along with whom? Who is central to the network (has a lot of social ties in the unit) and who is more isolated? In addition to examining the social network structure in the unit, we also examine whether the social positions and social ties in the unit are associated with (individual) characteristics and behaviors of the prisoners. On what basis do prisoners associate with each other ?

This subproject concerns the units with a prison regime in two penitentiary institutions. In order to map the social relations, peer nominations were used, for which prisoners could name up to 10 fellow prisoners from the same unit as answers to questions such as 'Whom do you get along with most?' These data are linked to data from self-report questionnaires from the LIC Study and to registration (official) data from the PIs.

Researchers involved: dr. Miranda Sentse (principal investigator), dr. Hanneke Palmen, Prof. Dr. Paul Nieuwbeerta, prof. Derek Kreager.


4. Psychosocial and neurobiological characteristics of male detainees in the Netherlands and Dutch Caribbean

Period: March 2017 – September 2018    

The aim of this project is to provide an overview of psychosocial and neurobiological characteristics of male detainees, and their role in antisocial behavior or recidivism. These factors include housing or financial management, antisocial behavior, concentration, mild intellectual disability, inhibition, psychophysiology etc.

Neuropsychological tests were administered in several prisons between April 2017 and March 2018 in Dutch continental Europe (n=283) and in Bonaire (n=45). Furthermore, psychosocial characteristics were obtained of detainees from the probation office in the Netherlands (n=2079) and Bonaire (n=29).

Researchers involved: Dr. Jochem Jansen (principal investigator), Renate den Bak MSc., Prof. Dr. Paul Nieuwbeerta, Prof. Dr. Arne Popma, Lucres Nauta-Jansen, Annemarie Marchena-Slot, Frans Koenraadt                             


5. Measuring the quality of life at PI Norgerhaven

Period: May 2017-April 2018

Commissioned by the Norwegian correction service, a study was conducted regarding the perception of detention by Norwegian prisoners and Dutch personnel in the Norgerhaven prison, which is temporarily leased to the Norwegian government to carry out prison sentences that were imposed in Norway. The study was carried out by a team of highly experienced prison researchers. The research was based on the MQPL+ (Measuring the Quality of Prison Life) methodology, developed by the Prison Research Centre at Cambridge University. The research involved observations, surveys among prisoners and staff, and qualitative interviews with prisoners, prison staff, and prison management. Both the survey among prisoners and prison staff showed high levels of satisfaction regarding the prison climate, staff-prisoner contact, and material conditions. There are some areas of concern, mainly relating to the extent to which prisoners can prepare for their return to society and the transparency and fairness of procedures.

See the full research report

Researchers involved: Prof. Dr. Miranda Boone (principal investigator)


6. Prison Project

Period: 2010- current

The Prison Project is a large-scale and long-term investigation into the consequences of imprisonment on the further life course of offenders and their families. The overall aims of the project are a) to provide comprehension of the effect of imprisonment on recidivism, b) to provide comprehension of the effect of imprisonment on other life spheres, and c) to collect information about views and opinions of (ex-)convicted persons and prison staff about imprisonment and its execution.

To investigate this, approximately 1,900 convicted males have been followed for several years and have been interviewed about their lives before, during and after their imprisonment at several moments. Next to the convicted males, their spouses and children were interviewed about their lives and the consequences of detention on their lives. Data was collected through structured interviews and written questionnaires. In addition, data from various existing registration systems have been collected.

Several subprojects and / or PhD projects exist within the Prison Project.

More information about the Prison Project  

Researchers involved: Prof. Dr. Paul Nieuwbeerta (principal investigator), dr. Anja Dirkzwager (principal investigator) , dr. Anouk Bosma, dr. Hanneke Palmen, dr. Hilde Wermink, dr. Anke Ramakers, Jennifer Doekhie MSc., dr. Joni Reef, dr. M. Sentse


7. Desistance from crime: a qualitative longitudinal analysis of the process of desistance among long term prisoners in the Netherlands

(part of the Prison Project)

Period: September 2013-current

This study aims to gain insight into the process of desistance among Dutch prisoners serving relatively long prison sentences. The desistance process is examined at the level of different dimensions: 1) the absence of criminal behavior; 2) the role of identity; and 3) receiving recognition and support from others. The study used a qualitative longitudinal research design in which participants were interviewed at three separate occasions: 1) three months before release 2) three months after release and 3) a year after release. In addition, parole files of the sample were examined and their criminal records were consulted. 

Researchers involved: Jennifer Doekhie MSc. (PhD student), prof. dr. Paul Nieuwbeerta (promotor), dr. Anja Dirkzwager (copromotor)


8. In a job, out of trouble? Causes of joblessness after imprisonment and the consequences of employment outcomes for post-release reoffending

Period: 2018-2021

The goals of this project are to examine (1) the causes of joblessness among ex-prisoners, and (2) the effects of different kinds of jobs and different kinds of joblessness on reoffending. This project is funded with a VENI grant of the Dutch research Council (NWO).

Prior re-entry research focused on (the effect of imprisonment on) post-release outcomes and finds ex-prisoners fare badly in society. In order to be able to intervene, it is necessary to not only measure post-release outcomes, but explain why many ex-prisoners fail to reintegrate in society. This project uses a theory-driven approach and unique access to multiple longitudinal datasets to answer these why-questions. The findings help to develop evidence-based policy responses to the re-integration problems of high-risk groups.

Panel data of the Prison Project as well as administrative data will be used to examine the relationship between employment and crime among a large group of male prisoners (N=1904).

Researchers involved: dr. Anke Ramakers (principal investigator).

Co-authors:  project leaders of the Prison Project (Paul Nieuwbeerta, Anja Dirkzwager), (inter)national researchers with expertise in this field of research.


9. Detrimental or beneficial effects of imprisonment?

Period: 2018-2021

The proposed research aims to significantly advance the criminological and theoretical understanding of punishment. Imprisonment is typically the most severe sentence that can be imposed. Nevertheless, it is unknown whether sentencing goals are achieved through imprisonment. This study examines whether imprisonment works to reduce re-offending, for whom it works, and how consequences can be understood. This knowledge is necessary for more effective correctional intervention.

This project uses a novel econometric approach to reliably assess the (in)direct effects of imprisonment on various life-course circumstances, such as family relations, employment, and re-offending. New prosecution data will be gathered, including information on sentencing and offending, and supplemented with pre-prison and post-prison data about life-course circumstances from other sources.

This project is funded with a VENI grant of the Dutch research Council (NWO).

Researchers involved: dr. Hilde Wermink (principal investigator)


10. Parenthood & Imprisonment

Period: 2010 - current

In this project we study the role of parenthood in the criminal justice system.  Not only the actual interpretation and performance of parenthood during imprisonment is studied, but also the representation of parenthood in sentencing, the effect of imprisonment on families,  perceptions of detention among parents, and police and justice practices regarding children and parents are researched. Qualitative and quantitative research methods are used and also methodologies of judicial behavior research. Researchers work on this topic within programs of Police & Science, NWO-Prison Project, Exodus, DJI en Honours College Law.

Researchers involved: dr. Joni Reef, prof. dr. Pauline Schuyt

11. The role of human rights in the outsourcing of confinement in a globalizing world

Period: October 2014 – current

This PhD research focuses on the outsourcing (privatization and offshoring) of both criminal and immigrant detention ('commodification') and on the merger between criminal and migration law and practices in detention ('crimmigration').  In particular, the research looks at the question to what extent human rights obligations provide an accurate framework of legal protection in confinement settings that are characterized  by commodification and crimmigration.

The research consists of both legal analysis and the application of qualitative empirical methods (including interviews and discourse analyses). Although the research is concerned with international human rights law and is as such relevant for a large variety of contexts, two specific case studies are focused upon in particular: 'offshore processing' in Australia/Nauru ('RPC Nauru') and 'offshore imprisonment' in Norway/The Netherlands ('PI Veenhuizen').

Researchers involved: Patrick van Berlo LL.M MSc (PhD candidate), Prof. Joanne van der Leun (PhD supervisor) & Prof. Maartje van der Woude (PhD co-supervisor).

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