PrisonLIFE project

The quality of life of convicted persons in prisons in Serbia affects not only their life in prison but also their life and position after releasing from prison. Consequently, it is essential to consider the emerging forms of quality of prison life, the factors that determine it, and how the quality of prison life can change.

The PrisonLIFE project is designed to help us identify and understand the most influential factors, specific forms, and aspects of quality of life in prisons in Serbia, as well as capacities for its assessment, monitoring, and improvement.

PrisonLIFE research scope and problem

Imprisonment has a profound effect and leaves far-reaching consequences on the life of convicted persons and their families and on the wider community. The success of the execution of a prison sentence depends on a number of subjective and objective factors. Between crime prevention and recidivism, on the one hand, and the prison management, treatment efficiency of and subsequent social reintegration of convicted persons, on the other hand, lies the quality of prison life, research scope of the PrisonLIFE project.

The quality of prison life is a cutting-edge concept in prison research and unique in each penal system. It makes a categorical distinction between the prison system as essential means of punishment and the prison system as a resource of resocialization. It is also one of the crucial factors contributing to the success of prison sentences and the success of educational and corrective treatment in prison. It is also one of the crucial factors contributing to the success of prison sentences and the success of educational and corrective treatment in prison. In other words, the quality of prison life is one of the fundamental factors that lead to personal transformation and successful social reintegration of convicted persons. Moreover, the quality of prison life provides a foundation for giving up crime and the consequent reduction in crime rates. The PrisonLIFE project recognizes this problem and approaches it in a transdisciplinary way.

PrisonLIFE project goal

The overarching objective of the PrisonLIFE project is to identify criminological-penological, psychological, sociological, legal, and security aspects of the quality of prison life in Serbia to understand the contemporary experience of imprisonment and reach its objective assessment and comprehensive improvement. Additional emphasis is placed on the population of female convicts given their multiple vulnerabilities and marginalization, as they are frequently overlooked in criminological and sociological research of the convicted persons in our region.

Theoretical concept and methodology that will be used during the PrisonLIFE project implementation

The main problems addressed by the PrisonLIFE project are the fundamental aspects of the quality of prison life in Serbia and their assessment, monitoring, and evaluation. The exploratory and comparative research underlying the PrisonLIFE project focuses on differences related to the socio-demographic, criminological, and penological characteristics of convicted persons and examines the relationship between the quality of prison life and various subjective indicators. In addition, the PrisonLIFE project assesses opportunities to improve the quality of prison life, with exclusive emphasis on the criminological-penological, psychological, sociological, legal, and security aspects.

To examine the quality of prison life, the Measuring the Quality of Prisoner Life survey (MQPL) will be culturally and linguistically adapted for use in the Serbian penal system, during the WP1, with the support of the first author of the MQPL survey, Professor Alison Liebling, director the Prisons Research Centre at the Institute of Criminology, Cambridge University. Evaluation of the psychometric properties and validation of the MQPL survey in Serbian will be conducted during WP2. An explorative and comparative study focused on differences in the quality of prison life related to sociodemographic, criminological and penological characteristics of convicted persons in the Serbian penal system will be performed during WP3. The associations between the quality of prison life and subjective well-being, emotions, personality and coping of convicted persons will be determined, as well. Finally, possibilities for improving the quality of prison life in Serbia from the criminological-penological, psychological, sociological, legal and security aspects will be assessed, followed by the development of empirically and theoretically based policy recommendations built upon the large-scale theoretical-empirical analysis during WP4. Various activities will be organized throughout the complete duration of the PrisonLIFE project to inform about its results, increase the visibility of the team’s excellence and reach out to the general public and society, specifically by organizing awareness-raising activities on the quality of prison life complexity and need for its improvement.

Expected PrisonLIFE project results

The identification of criminological-penological, psychological, sociological, legal, and security aspects of the quality of prison life in Serbia is expected, along with its characteristics, key dimensions that affect it, and the ways in which it can be improved. Moreover, cross-cultural adaptation and development of an objective and precise instrument for its measurement and evaluation within the Serbian prison system are expected. Finally, initiation of changes in the prevailing negative attitudes of public opinion on the possibilities of resocialization and social reintegration of convicted persons is expected.

Overall, the PrisonLIFE project will contribute to the creation of consistent legal solutions and responsible evidence-based public policy and practice, with the expected adoption of recommendations that will facilitate the actual and practical implementation of previously adopted international and European standards. In the long run, the success of the PrisonLIFE project is reflected in the improvement of prison life and the well-founded social reintegration of convicted persons, with a consequent reduction in the crime rate in Serbia.

What is the significance of the PrisonLIFE project for Serbia and the world?

For the first time in Serbia, a research team gathered around the PrisonLIFE project will examine the direct and indirect effects of various factors on the quality of prison life of convicted men and women. Based on the collected data and after the theoretical-empirical analysis, the basis for undertaking adequate and timely preventive measures will be prepared. The importance of the PrisonLIFE project is reflected in the laying of foundations for a reliable assessment of the quality of prison life and the risk of its deterioration or neglect in various prisons in Serbia. Moreover, the Institute of Criminological and Sociological Research, the leading participating scientific and research organization of the PrisonLIFE project, will become one of the centers of gravity in this field and leader in West Balkan, making Serbia highly competitive in the long term.

Members of the PrisonLIFE project team consider this endeavor their great success and a turning point in the development of one of the most current scientific fields in the world. They also hope that the project findings will contribute to enriching the overall knowledge in the field of prison research. Work on this project will enable a deeper examination of the mechanisms that make the prison system complex and the quality of prison life unique. Globally, this research endeavor is relevant for creating guidelines for improving the quality of prison life of convicted persons. Following the far-reaching expectations of the PrisonLIFE project team, the research results will, compared to previous knowledge, stimulate debates at the global level and thus open new research questions.

The leading participating Scientific and Research Organization of the PrisonLIFE project – Institute of Criminological and Sociological Research, Belgrade, Serbia

Institute of Criminological and Sociological Research has more than six decades-long research tradition and expertise. As a scientific and research organization, the Institute studies the etiology, phenomenology, and prevention of crime and social deviations, and to date, dozens of fundamental and applied scientific research in criminology and related disciplines have resulted in recommendations for legal and public policy reform and development of new programs and intervention strategies.

The PrisonLIFE project is supported by the Science Fund of the Republic of Serbia, Grant No. 7750249, Project title: Assessment and possibilities for improving the quality of prison life of prisoners in the Republic of Serbia: Criminological-penological, psychological, sociological, legal and security aspects.

Plans for the future

After obtaining and sharing the results, the PrisonLIFE project will contribute to new scientific ideas. Publishing the results of the PrisonLIFE project in international journals and scientific monographs, and exchanging scientific ideas and findings at prestigious conferences, are the first steps in achieving the long-term goal. Plans for the future consist of networking and developing international collaboration with scientists directly or indirectly engaged in prison research across Europe and worldwide. Plans also include involvement in new science projects and career advancement of PrisonLIFE project team members.

PrisonLIFE team

The PrisonLIFE project team has previously dealt with the characteristics of the prison system in our country. The project team members have conducted numerous comparative, theoretical, and empirical studies and studies focused on changes in legal solutions and public policies. The lack of literature on the quality of prison life and its assessment, monitoring, and change has motivated the PrisonLIFE project team to explore this subject comprehensively. Unlike the previous scientific-research experience of the team members, which mainly referred to particular characteristics of the execution of a prison sentence, the PrisonLIFE project includes a broader perspective and has scientific and social potential, with a normative dimension.

The PrisonLIFE project team consists of professional, experienced, and promising researchers from the Institute for Criminological and Sociological Research in Belgrade. They will achieve the main goal and specific objectives by sharing roles and responsibilities. The transdisciplinarity of the PrisonLIFE project team is reflected in the sharing and integrating of complementary knowledge, skills, and expertise during the exploration and discussion of project findings from different aspects. This synergy of knowledge and professional skills of the PrisonLIFE project team members is essential for achieving the goal. The project is led by Milena Milićević, PhD, research associate at the Institute, and principal investigator. The PrisonLIFE project team include Ljeposava Ilijić, PhD, Olivera Pavićević, PhD, Ivana Stepanović, PhD, Sanja Ćopić, PhD, Janko Međedović, PhD, Ivana Stevanović, PhD, Nikola Vujičić, MA, and Nikola Drndarević, MA. As long-term collaborators, the team members have previously dealt with a wide range of areas and topics directly related to the project – from psychometry and cross-cultural adaptation to criminal law, from criminology and penology to social rehabilitation, victimology, and gender studies.