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Vidi grant for Esther van Ginneken for research into violence in prisons

Why do violent incidents occur in prisons? And how do staff respond? Assistant Professor Esther van Ginneken will use a grant from the NWO Vidi Talent Programme to conduct research into these and other questions. She intends to make use of virtual reality.

Esther van Ginneken

Since the start of her academic career, Van Ginneken has conducted research into prisons. ‘Previously, this was on the well-being of prisoners and living conditions in prisons. With my Vidi research I will focus on a darker side, namely violence in prisons. More precisely: the question of why violent incidents occur in prisons and how staff respond to it. In previous research, victimisation and perpetration were seen as separate aspects, as though perpetrators and victims were strictly separate groups. The reality is more complicated: violence is often a complex process in which people react to each other and can be both victims and perpetrators.’

In her research, Van Ginneken wants to map out the different roles, as well as their overlap and the role of bystanders. ‘In addition, I want to look at the motivation and perceptions of perpetrators of violence, group processes and how staff response can contribute to escalation or de-escalation of incidents. Finally, I also want to investigate the effects of different disciplinary punishments, in order to make evidence-based recommendations for reducing the risk of violence. I will make use of interviews virtual reality, survey data and registration data. Virtual reality is an innovative and realistic way to present different scenarios and ask people how they would respond in a certain situation.’

'Great to explore the possibilities of virtual reality'

The research project will commence on 1 January 2023. Van Ginneken will lead a research team consisting of one PhD candidate and a postdoc. ‘My research links up nicely with the long-term Life in Custody Study and other prison research within the Criminal Justice research programme at the faculty. In addition, there are good opportunities to collaborate with the Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences, for example in the area of virtual reality, and with criminologists at other universities who are doing research into violence in a more general sense. Also within our own Department of Criminology, more and more use is being made of virtual reality so it will be good to get involved in that. I will use the coming period to explore the possibilities.’

Van Ginneken also sees a role for the scholars of the future in her project. ‘I hope to involve students in this project by offering them research internships where, for example, they can collect data to use for their thesis. This is a great opportunity for (master’s) students to get to know the prison and research world up close. It’s important for students to see how much work goes into data collection before a final “polished” article can be published that they can read. That applies even more so when data has to be collected in prisons – a place that is unpredictable and not easily accessible.’

The NWO Vidi Talent Programme is a funding instrument for experienced researchers. It allows researchers who have been conducting research at postdoc level for a number of years, to develop their own innovative line of research and to appoint one or more researchers to work on their project. Read more about the NWO Talent Programme here

In this round, another 12 researchers from Leiden University received Vidi grants.

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