Sophie Ellis delves into the history of prison psychology. Is there conflict between being a servant of the state and a therapeutic agent?


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Sophie Ellis is a researcher at the Prisons Research Centre, at Cambridge University. She’s interested in the experience of imprisonment for those who live and work in prisons, and in the effects of prison on families. She’s also interested in the intersection between the ‘psy’ disciplines, and state institutions. Before arriving at Cambridge, she spent nine years working in prison-based psychology roles, doing assessments and group-based cognitive-behavioural programmes with prisoners.

During her time in the Prison Service, Sophie conducted research on the psychosocial characteristics of men who behaved violently in custody, and desisted over the course of their sentence. She was interested in how people managed to desist in an environment that typically has elevated levels of violence.

Sophie’s PhD is looking at the role of psychologists in English prisons. It explores their history, their culture, their professional identity, and how they make decisions about deploying their power and expertise in a socially and morally complex environment like prison.

32 episodes