The consequences of incarceration

Project period

1997- 2003

Project staff

Prof. Dr. Werner Greve (Project manager)

Prof. Dr. Mechthild Bereswill

Dr. Dirk Enzmann

Prof. Dr. Daniela Hosser

Dr. Stefan Suhling

Dr. Almut Koesling



Project description

The crime policy starting point of this study consisted of the well-documented high recidivism rates among imprisoned convicted offenders, which were significantly higher for juvenile offenders than for adults. The substantial increase in overcrowding in German juvenile detention centres in recent years gave the project additional impact and topicality. The point of departure in conducting the research was the lack of evaluative longitudinal studies on this drastic form of intervention with delinquent and criminal adolescents and young adults. This deficit is a cause for concern, both in general terms and especially from a legal perspective, because (other than in general criminal law) Germany’s juvenile criminal law requires that punitive sanctions must be expressly justified by their educational efficacy.

The research conducted in the first project phase focused for the most part on the development consequences of a prison sentence on the individuals in terms of the development of and changes in self-perception and identity, current and future social integration, ability to cope with conflict and coping mechanisms, mental state, addictive behaviour, personal plans for the future, changes in personality, and conformity. Developments and changes in the areas mentioned were placed in relation to the probability of recidivism and (criminal) activity following release. Biographical processes were reconstructed in 43 cases, and for 30 of those cases, subsequent biographical development was also studied.

The survey was conducted in five juvenile detention centres in northern Germany (in Lower Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Hamburg) and in cooperation with representatives from the probation services in several German states (Länder). The survey targeted German adolescent and young adult first-time offenders aged between 14 and 24. The quantitative study combined cross-sectional, cross-sequential and longitudinal designs. The aim was to identify to the greatest extent possible the effects of prison experience on adolescents independently of other aspects of their deviant and criminal activity. The qualitative study focused on dealing with a first-time prison sentence in the context of the biographies of male juveniles and young adults. In terms of theory, the study integrated institution-specific, biography theory-based and gender-related approaches.

Project related publications quantitative approach
Project related publications qualitative approach