Network for comparative research on innovative detention policies and practices

Project Details


The applicants of this FWO Scientific Research Network are all high potential early career researchers whose
research focuses on prisons and other detention facilities such as forensic hospitals. They all study
detention facilities from a different perspective: penology, law, social psychology, architecture,
anthropology and sociology. In addition, they are located in different regions: Belgium (Flanders, Wallonia
and Brussels), the Netherlands and Norway. The interdisciplinary and international character of this
application, and hence the complementary expertise of each applicant, is both valuable and necessary for
the proposed contributions to this growing research field of comparative penology.
Since 2019, Belgian prison policy and practice has witnessed a trend towards small-scale detention
facilities. Some of the recent policy-decisions in this context were made with reference to research
conducted in Norway and in the Netherlands that ‘prove’ that these facilities are more humane, support
reintegration after release and reduce the well-known harmful effects of detention. This new trend towards
improved detention conditions is currently embedded in an expansionist framework in Belgium (i.e.
increasing detention capacity). By contrast, in the academic world, not only the increased quality of life in
small-scale detention facilities, but also the quantity of the detention capacity as a whole is highly debated.
This reality raises new and challenging scientific questions for the growing field of comparative penology.
Comparative penology is a relatively new research field that aims to compare prisons and penal systems from
different countries or regions. Well-known for being challenging in practical and methodological terms: it is
often criticised because it can lead to unbalanced comparisons between penal systems and because of the
possible misunderstandings of foreign languages and systems (Nelken, 2010). To avoid these problems, indepth understanding of the political, legal and social context of prison policies and practices is essential. This,
in turn, does not only require comparative but also interdisciplinary research, and hence thorough
international and interdisciplinary collaboration. This FWO Scientific Research Network is aimed at
overcoming these challenges and thus at contributing to the much-needed comparative collaborations on
detention conditions, penal policies and comparative penology.
The strength of the proposed network is not so much in individual applicant’s expertise as in its broad
interdisciplinary (penology, law, social psychology, architecture, anthropology and sociology) and
international and interregional character (Belgium (Flanders, Wallonia, Brussels), the Netherlands and
Norway). This collaboration will lead to in-depth understandings of different prison systems, detention
conditions and their political, legal and social context, which is needed to make balanced and
methodologically-sound comparisons. The inclusion of the different regions has at least two other benefits.
First, it tackles the fragmentation of penological knowledge in Belgium, a country in which penological
knowledge is insufficiently exchanged between the Dutch and French speaking universities. Second, the
network includes Dutch and Norwegian researchers who foster international research collaboration and
allow for a comprehensive and informed comparative debate in penology. This is especially meaningful
because the Netherlands and Norway are both commonly used as (unnuanced) ‘good examples’ by prison
researchers and national policymakers.
More specifically, the aim of this FWO Scientific Research Network is threefold.
The first objective is consolidation through establishing a sustainable Research Network. Early career
researchers on a postdoctoral level are in need of opportunities to further develop their academic career.
Establishing and consolidating this Research Network, embedded in outstanding research groups, provides
many of the necessary opportunities such as national and international contacts, training opportunities,
and international research and teaching mobility. Such opportunities lead to joint publications and
research initiatives, and thus to future funding opportunities and research. In addition, this Research
Network will be a means to enhance study quality and research endeavours by providing formal and
informal peer debriefing, critical peer reviews, and motivational peer support.
The second objective is innovation through sharing and advancing knowledge. By organizing various
activities, such as international digital and ‘real life’ symposia and seminars, work visits, guest lectures, and
master classes, this Research Network will act as a forum for international exchange of local knowledge
about research, practice and policy. This will allow the applicants to develop innovative interdisciplinary and
comparative research and research proposals of a quality that cannot be reached without such a network.
The third objective is valorisation through joint publications, research proposals and knowledge exchange
with scholars, practitioners and policy makers.
Effective start/end date1/01/2231/12/26


  • comparative penology
  • penal policies
  • Detention

Flemish discipline codes in use since 2023

  • Criminal law
  • Punishment and criminal justice
  • Comparative and historical sociology
  • Social problems


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