After short talks by rector Paul Emmelkamp and Head of Academic Affairs Nick den Hollander, one of the new Fellows, Paul Nieuwbeerta gave a presentation on the consequences of imprisonment. Nieuwbeerta, Professor of Criminology at Leiden University, is in the midst of a large research project, the Prison Project, collecting data on nearly two thousand male prisoners in the Netherlands. He and his team are trying to get to the bottom of the effects of imprisonment: what is the impact on a person’s life, and what is the likelihood of repeat offending?
Nieuwbeerta: “We send 35.000 people to prison each year. That is the equivalent to the number of first year university students. But we know little of the effects of imprisonment.”
Surprisingly, for an act that involves taking away someone’s freedom, “we know little about the effects of imprisonment.” Even as he was speaking, the last interview with prisoners was being carried out, so Nieuwbeerta could not offer any definite results yet. But he gave some preliminary findings: prisoners housed in old prison buildings report being less happy than those in modern buildings; prisoners are more positive about the prison experience in prisons with more female staff members, and when they entered resocialisation programmes. Furthermore, some very first preliminary analyses indicate that the length of detention does not strongly influence repeat offending.
Paul Nieuwbeerta’s presentation sparked an animated discussion, about, for example, the study’s exclusion of women, changing societal attitudes towards punishment, and the bewildering fact that crime actually has dropped in many Western countries over the past decade. Though, by the time Nieuwbeerta leaves NIAS at the end of the semester, he will not have unearthed the causes of this crime drop – a hotly debated issue amongst criminologists, he will have a better understanding of the consequences of imprisonment for those who do still end up there.