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Research project

Life in Custody Study (LIC)

The Life in Custody (LIC) Study comprises a large-scale research project into prison climate and the quality of prison life in Dutch prisons.

2016 - 2024
Hanneke Palmen
Dienst Justitiële Inrichtingen and Leiden University

The project is a collaboration between Leiden University and the Dutch Prison Service. The project has two main aims: first, the periodic measurement of prison climate in Dutch prisons by an independent partner, with a high response rate; second, to answer research questions about the effects of prison climate. The Life in Custody Study carries out research on, for instance, the relationship between prison climate and behaviour, wellbeing, work climate, and recidivism.

A new instrument was developed and validated to measure prison climate: The Prison Climate Questionnaire. This survey has been administered to all adult men and women in Dutch prisons in 2017 and 2019 (response rate approx. 80%). Future survey rounds are planned for 2021 and 2023.

The survey data have been complemented with administrative data to gain further information about background characteristics, criminal history, involvement in incidents during imprisonment, prison visits, institutional characteristics and recidivism.

The Life in Custody Study has also been expanded with a unique research project on prison visitation: the Dutch Prison Visitation Study (DPVS), which focuses on prison visitation from personal visitors and contact with professional visitors (e.g. case-managers, and reintegration professionals) in relation to behaviour during and after prison, and preparation for reintegration.

Two additional projects of the Life in Custody Study focus on social networks in prison, and cognitive skills and autonomy.

For further information about the LIC study and the PCQ you can contact the researchers through LIC-study@law.leidenuniv.nl.

Please find an overview of research output (publishes papers, factsheets) of the Life in Custody Study.

1. Prison climate

Contact: Dr. Esther van Ginneken

The first project has described prison climate in different regimes and prisons in the Netherlands. Many aspects were measured, including perceptions of safety, relationships with peers, staff-prisoner relationships, and satisfaction with facilities. Next, it was explored how prison climate on an individual and unit level is related to wellbeing and behaviour of incarcerated individuals. For this purpose, both self-report and officially registered data on misconduct were available. Additionally, this project examines the relationship between prison climate as experienced by incarcerated individuals, and work climate and safety as experienced by correctional staff. In the future, it will be investigated if a positive prison climate is associated with lower recidivism after release.

Researchers involved: Dr. Hanneke Palmen (copromotor), Dr. Esther van Ginneken (principal researcher), Dr. Anouk Bosma (principal researcher), Prof. dr. Paul Nieuwbeerta (principal researcher), Dr. Miranda Sentse (senior researcher).

2. The Dutch Prison Visitation Study

Contact: Dr. Hanneke Palmen

As part of the Life in Custody (LIC) study, the Dutch Prison Visitation Study (DPVS) aims to examine prison visitation from different perspectives and in all its variety. The DPVS comprises two data collections: The 2017 data collection focused on determinants and consequences of prison visitation, and combined the 2017 survey data with register data on visitation. The 2019 data collection firstly focused on the heterogeneity of the visitation experience when receiving personal visits (conversational topics and subjective experience of the visitation hour) in relation to preparation for reintegration, and behavior during and after imprisonment. This data collection uniquely targeted both prisoners and their visitors. This enabled us to view the prison visitation experience from three perspectives: 1) the prisoners, 2) the visitors, and 3) the prisoners-visitors dyads. Secondly, this data collection was one of the first to map the prevalence and goals of contact that prisoners have with professionals from within (e.g. case-managers) and outside the prison (e.g. probation officers, municipalities). Here, again, data collection targeted both prisoners and their professional visitors.

Researchers involved: Dr. Hanneke Palmen (principal researcher), Dr. Esther van Ginneken (principal researcher), Prof. dr. Paul Nieuwbeerta (principal researcher), Maria Berghuis, MSc. (PhD student), Ellen de Jong, MSc. (PhD student), Amanda Pasma, MSc. (PhD student), Dr. Miranda Sentse (senior researcher) & Dr. Anke Ramakers (senior researcher).

The Dutch Prison Visitation Study comprises three projects:

Period: spring 2017 – spring  2021

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 physically 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) & Dr. Miranda Sentse (senior researcher).

Period: Oct. 2018 – Feb. 2023

The aim of this research project is to improve knowledge about the heterogeneity of the visitation experience in prisons. This project builds on previous research that identified determinants of who gets visits and from whom and what possible effects visitation has during, as well as after, detention. Internationally, and in the Netherlands, the differences between visitation experience has not yet received a lot of attention. It is expected that visitation experiences are dependent on the inmate, his or her visitors, and the context in which the visitation takes place. The focus of this research project is on these differences.

Researchers involved: Ellen de Jong, MSc. (PhD student), Dr. Hanneke Palmen (copromotor), Dr. Anke Ramakers (copromotor) & Prof. dr. Paul Nieuwbeerta (promotor).

Duration: 2018 – 2022

Contact between prisoners and re-integration-professionals in detention is important in preparing prisoners for release. Prison-based professionals, such as case managers and mentors, monitor the problems concerning the basic needs among prisoners (work & income, housing, health care, debts, valid identification, social network) and help them to fulfil these basic needs. Additionally, community-based professionals, such as municipal officers, probation officers, health care professionals and volunteers, can provide access to community resources and prepare prisoners for transitioning back into society. However, to this date we know little about the extent and nature of contact between prisoners and prison-based and community-based professionals in detention. Therefore, this research project focuses on the degree and content of contact between prisoners and re-integration-professionals, and on the factors that determine who is in close contact with these professionals and who is not. For example, prisoners who experience problems regarding the basic needs, preferably are in close contact with either one or multiple professionals. Subsequently, this research project examines to what extent contact with professionals is helpful in preparing prisoners for release, and to what degree this contact can lower recidivism.

In order to answer these research questions, data will be used from the second wave (2019) of the Life in Custody Study. This study includes survey data collected among both prisoners and professionals, and administrative data from the Dutch Custodial Agency.

Researchers involved: Amanda Pasma, MSc. (PhD student), Dr. Esther van Ginneken (copromotor), Dr. Hanneke Palmen (copromotor) & Prof. dr. Paul Nieuwbeerta (promotor).

3. Autonomy, cognitive functions and resocialisation during detention

Duration: 2019 – 2023

Prisoners in the Netherlands can be promoted from a basic to a plus regime, provided that they develop prosocial behavior. In the plus regime there are more freedoms and responsibilities than in the basic regime, which ought to increase the autonomy of prisoners. But can this assumption be supported by scientific evidence? In the first part of this project, the policy theory, as well as its application, will be evaluated. In the empirical part of this project, autonomy and cognitive skills of prisoners are mapped. Cognitive skills are essential for behavioral change; and therefore conditional for admission to the plus regime. Internationally, however, little is known about the cognitive skills of prisoners. In the Netherlands the number of intellectually disabled (LVB) prisoners is estimated to be high (up to 50%). Subsequently, the effect of cognitive skills on (sense of) autonomy and behavioural change during and after imprisonment is examined.

Involved researchers: Jan Maarten Elbers, MSc. (PhD student), Dr. Esther van Ginneken (copromotor), Dr. Hanneke Palmen (copromotor), Prof. Dr. Paul Nieuwbeerta (promotor) & Prof. Mr. dr. Miranda Boone (promotor).

4. Social Networks in Prison

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 researcher), Dr. Hanneke Palmen, (senior researcher), Prof. dr. Paul Nieuwbeerta (senior researcher) & Prof. dr. Derek Kreager (senior researcher).

Research Output







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