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Long-term Imprisonment from Young Adulthood: A Longitudinal Follow-up Study

Long-term Imprisonment from Young Adulthood: A Longitudinal Follow-up Study

A mixed-method longitudinal study centred on following almost 150 inmates serving very large sentences (15+ years) from a young age (25 years or younger).

Project Overview

In April 2020, the project team began working on their new ESRC-funded study of life imprisonment from a young age, building on findings from their earlier research, Experiencing Very Long-Term Imprisonment from Young Adulthood.

The current study adopts a longitudinal perspective to follow-up more than 140 men and women interviewed between 2013-14 about their experiences of being given very long custodial terms (minimum tariffs of 15 years or more) at a young age (25 years or younger). While most of the follow-up interviews will be conducted within prisons, we also hope to re-interview the 30 men and women from our original sample who have been released into the community on life licence.

Briefly, the core objectives of the study are as follows:

  • To detail the lived experience of a set of prisoners - and former-prisoners - about whom very little is known among practitioners and academics, and whose voices tend to be marginal in academic, policy and media discussions of new sentencing and punishment practices.
  • To provide longitudinal insight into the experience and impact of long-term confinement from a young age, using both qualitative and quantitative research methods.
  • To provide a nuanced and thorough examination of the ways in which individuals reflexively engage with their long life sentence and their murder conviction, and the ways in which such reflection is undertaken relationally (i.e. with others). This will involve a focussed interview technique, grounded in Archer's (2003, 2012) theoretical framework, exploring the specific ways in which individuals - both on their own and with various relational interlocuters - plan, rehearse, mull-over, decide, re-live, prioritise, imagine and hold imaginary conversations, relating to their personal projects and concerns.
  • To explore the subjective experience of the distance and polarity between the prison and the outside world (‘depth’), drawing attention to the role of the prison in prisoners' life trajectories, and the existential meaning of such long-term sentences overall.
  • To examine the experience of release from a long-life sentence, including the transition from custody to community, sources of hope, control and meaning, the impact of long-term custody on subjectivity, identity and relational life post-release, and the ongoing relationship between the institution of imprisonment and the society in which it is embedded.

We also aim to contribute to policy and practice in relation to long term and life imprisonment, specifically by using empirically grounded evidence to inform policy makers and senior HMPPS officials about how the identities, orientations, preoccupations and needs of this population change during their sentences, and the impact of different prison environments on their personal trajectories within and beyond the prison.


The book has been reviewed in a number of journals, including: Theoretical Criminology; Punishment & Society and the British Journal of Criminology.

Peer-reviewed papers and chapters

Analytical summaries and other non-peer reviewed publications

Economic and Social Research Council


University of Cambridge


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