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Life Histories

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Part of the Palgrave Studies in Prisons and Penology book series (PSIPP)


To adequately convey some of the particularities of our participants’ experiences, both prior to and during their imprisonment, this chapter provides qualitative pen portraits of six of the study participants. Selected to loosely represent the interview sample along certain dimensions, the portraits demonstrate the heterogeneity of the sample and flesh out our participants in ways that animate them as human beings and bring to life their biographical and emotional complexities.

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  • DOI: 10.1057/978-1-137-56601-0_3
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  1. 1.

    As such, this was not a sample characterised by serious prolific offending.

  2. 2.

    ‘Dispersal’: a high-security prison, or the high-security prison system.

  3. 3.

    68% of female survey participants, and 43% of male survey participants, reported having had a problem with alcohol or drugs (or both) before they came into prison on their current sentence.

  4. 4.

    This is higher than the proportion of female prisoners in other studies (e.g. one in five, in Caddle and Crisp 1997), and far higher than the general population, of whom two per cent have been in care at some point during their childhood (Dodd and Hunter 1992).

  5. 5.

    12 of the 19 women who we interviewed identified themselves as having children, either in the survey or in interview. One woman noted having two children in the survey, despite them both having passed away prior to her sentence. The stark nature of collecting such data quantitatively was not lost on us. Very early on in the process, we recognised the complex and emotive nature of asking women about their children. Many had experienced miscarriages, abortions (often forced upon them by others), infant deaths, and children being taken into care.

  6. 6.

    67% of female survey participants had self-harmed or attempted suicide prior to their imprisonment, and 89% during their current sentence. For the male survey participants, these figures were 15% for both.

  7. 7.

    National Front: an extreme far-right, white supremacist political party in the UK.


  • Caddle, D., & Crisp, D. (1997). Imprisoned women and mothers. London: Home Office.

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  • Dodd, T., & Hunter, P. (1992). The national prison survey 1991: A report to the Home Office of a study of prisoners in England and Wales carried out by the Social Survey Division of OPCS. London: HMSO.

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Correspondence to Ben Crewe .

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Crewe, B., Hulley, S., Wright, S. (2020). Life Histories. In: Life Imprisonment from Young Adulthood. Palgrave Studies in Prisons and Penology. Palgrave Macmillan, London.

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  • Publisher Name: Palgrave Macmillan, London

  • Print ISBN: 978-1-137-56600-3

  • Online ISBN: 978-1-137-56601-0

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