Innovative research into the architecture and design of prisons from University of Bath criminology Professor Yvonne Jewkes has made it to the final for the ESRC’s Celebrating Impact Prize.

The annual ESRC award aims to recognise and reward researchers supported by the funding body who have created or enabled outstanding impact from social science research. It celebrates researchers at all career stages whose actions have supported changes in practice, thinking or capacity that create a positive impact in our society, economy and in our lives, both here in the UK and internationally.

Professor Jewkes has been shortlisted in recognition for her efforts in shaping the design of a new women’s prison in Limerick, Ireland. Drawing on her extensive research, she worked with the Irish Prison Service (IPS) to shift perceptions about female offenders. By helping to recast prisoners as individuals with complex emotional as well as clinical needs with considerable future potential her research was instrumental in changing the IPS’ thinking and reframing their long-term strategic planning decisions.

The new prison in Limerick is designed as a healing environment for 50 women underpinned by a pioneering penal philosophy that focuses on humanity, hope and rehabilitation. It is influenced by best practice in prison design and rehabilitation and inspired by examples from Scandinavia. Professor Jewkes played a collaborative role with the IPS' Design Team in the design parameters and reviewed design submissions as part of the team for the New Limerick Prison Female facility.

Her involvement has helped to generate significant impact not just for the prison, the women prisoners or the Irish Prison Service, but more broadly impacts felt by wider society too. In just one area, by influencing design in such a way, the prison environment now offers much better opportunities for prisoners’ relatives and other visitors, especially children, to visit; another important step in helping to heal, rehabilitate and reintegrate individuals back into society following a sentence.

Commenting, Professor Jewkes from the University’s Department of Social & Policy Sciences said: “The ESRC Celebrating Impact Prize is very prestigious and I am delighted to be named as a Finalist in recognition of my research and impact on prison design in Ireland. The new Limerick women’s prison will be a ‘healing’, rehabilitative environment with light, bright living accommodation, outdoor play area for children and landscaped gardens with mature trees.”

Head of Department, Professor Joe Devine added: "Nations across the globe grapple with big questions related to the role of prisons in society. Professor Jewkes’ research injects fresh thinking and insights into these questions, and offers practical solutions that respect prisoners as human beings and prisons as places of rehabilitation and healing. It is ground breaking research that challenges society to think deeply about its priorities and values. The prison in Limerick shows that it can work, that we can all think differently. I am delighted Professor Jewkes is a finalist on the ESRC Celebrating Impact Prize because her research is a fantastic example of how social sciences can make a difference in our world."

Associate Dean (Research) for the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, Professor Julie Barnett said: "Criminology is a relatively new area of research for the University and Professor Jewkes' work demonstrates just why it is so important. Critically evaluating how we do things in the criminal justice system by drawing on international best practice is helping to challenge some of the thorniest issues in society, like supporting rehabilitation, and is having profound impacts for individuals and their communities. I am delighted to see her efforts recognised in this way, which is a fantastic endorsement of the brilliant work she is doing at the University."

Commenting on the ESRC's Celebrating Impact Prize, ESRC Executive Chair Professor Jennifer Rubin said: "This is an excellent opportunity for the UK’s world-leading economists and social scientists to be recognised for how their work improves lives for a wide range of people both in the UK and in other countries, from how children are taught to read, to innovative tools helping insure Ugandan farmers, or how victims of gender-based violence can experience justice. Their impacts are impressive and far-reaching and I’m proud that the Economic and Social Research Council has funded this work, and that it can be fully recognised through our prestigious Celebrating Impact Prize."

Results will be announced by the ESRC on Thursday 12 November.