Experiencing very long term imprisonment from young adulthood: identity, adaptation and penal legitimacy

Project: Research

Project Details


This study, based within the Prisons Research Centre at the University of Cambridge, explored the experiences of prisoners who are given very long sentences (15 years or more) when aged under 25 years old. Almost one hundred and fifty interviews were conducted with prisoners at various stages of such sentences, as well almost 300 surveys completed on the 'problems of long-term imprisonment'. The main aim was to provide a detailed account of the experiences of these prisoners, focussing on three main areas: first, how they cope with (and develop during) such long sentences, and how they manage issues of self and identity; second, how they adapt socially to imprisonment, in particular, their relationships with staff and other prisoners, and their levels of compliance, engagement and resistance; and, third, how their sentence conditions and lives prior to imprisonment shape their perceptions of penal legitimacy.

Key findings

The research has contributed to academic thinking on the nature and experience of long-term imprisonment from young adulthood, publishing in high-impact journals in the field including the British Journal of Criminology, theoretical Criminology and Justice Quarterly. The study also impacted on policy, practice and socio-legal debates in a range of areas, for example, by providing evidence to a Justice Select Committee on 'joint enterprise', and better informing relevant policymakers and practitioners about the consequences of new sentencing practices through lectures delivered at the Ministry of Justice and at the annual Prisons Research Centre Conference. Work from this project has also been presented at the British Society of Criminology and European Society of Criminology annual conferences.
Short titleExperiencing very long term imprisonment from young adulthood
Effective start/end date1/07/121/07/16

UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This project contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-being
  • SDG 16 - Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions


  • Long-term imprisonment
  • Coping
  • Life sentences
  • Prison