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Dr Alisa Stevens

Senior Lecturer

School of Social Sciences

+44 29208 76638
Glamorgan Building, King Edward VII Avenue, Cardiff, CF10 3WA
Media commentator
Available for postgraduate supervision


My research and teaching interests revolve around understanding experiences of imprisonment for, and the potential for the rehabilitation of, people in prison. I am particularly concerned with the prospects for positive change among people serving long sentences for violent or sexual offences, both through the prison’s provision of an enabling social milieu and through treatment programmes; notably, the democratic therapeutic community. I enjoy using qualitative methods, and draw upon a range of psychosocial theories and humanistic approaches to understanding offending behaviour and personal change.  

I hold a DPhil in Law and MSc in Criminology and Criminal Justice, both from the University of Oxford. I joined Cardiff University as a Senior Lecturer in Criminology in January 2018, having previously worked at the Universities of Southampton and Kent.

Administratively, I serve the School as Chair of the Quality and Standards Committee and Chair of the Student Cases Committee. I am member of the School's Teaching and Learning Committee and an elected member of the University’s Academic Standards and Quality Committee. 






  • Stevens, A. 2016. Therapeutic communities. In: Jewkes, Y., Bennett, J. and Crewe, B. eds. Handbook on Prisons. Abingdon and New York: Routledge, pp. 497-513.









Book sections



Prisons, as the ultimate form of punishment in the United Kingdom, are fundamental to our criminal justice system. If we are to make best use of them, they must be effective in helping people who have offended against others and against society to change for the better. These concerns – around prisons, prisoners, offender rehabilitation, and desistance from crime – underpin and inspire my research interests.

My passion for prisons and penal reform was initially sparked through voluntary work in prison, which led me to question the purpose and use of imprisonment, and the rehabilitative needs of people who live in prison. This led directly to my DPhil research (University of Oxford, 2005-9) at the therapeutic communities at HMPs Grendon and Gartree for men and HMP Send for women. Prison-based therapeutic communities offer serious (typically indeterminate sentenced, violent or sexually violent) offenders the opportunity to engage with an atypically humane, supportive, and pro-social environment while undertaking prolonged group psychotherapy. My research, conducted through ethnographic observation and interviews with residents (prisoners) and operational and clinical staff, produced a number of publications, notably an award winning article (‘I am the person now I was always meant to be’, Criminology and Criminal Justice 12 (5): 527-47) and a research monograph (Offender Rehabilitation and Therapeutic Communities, Routledge, 2013).

Subsequently, I was the academic consultant to the Howard League for Penal Reform’s Commission on Sex in Prison. Over two years, the Commission investigated the extent and nature of, issues raised by, and policy implications of, sexual activity in our prisons. Controversially, research access to serving prisoners was denied but I was able instead to interview former prisoners about their sexual experiences behind bars.  My findings attracted media interest (BBC, The Guardian, The Independent) and were published in the British Journal of Criminology (‘Sexual activity in British men’s prisons', 57 (6): 1379-1397). More recently, I have worked with researchers in Cardiff University’s Division of Psychological Medicine to understand the knowledge base on ‘conjugal visitation’ and the use of private visits, potentially for sexual purposes, in European prisons. 


I have been teaching topics in penology, criminology, and criminal justice since 2006. My undergraduate and postgraduate teaching experience includes the creation of new modules; the re-design or ongoing continuous improvement of existing modules; delivering lectures, seminars, workshops, and tutorials; running fieldtrips to prisons; and providing individual supervision for undergraduate and postgraduate dissertations and doctoral research. I hold a postgraduate teaching qualification (PGCHE) and am a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (FHEA).

At Cardiff, I am the module convenor for the third year UG module SI0602 Prisons and Prisoners, and for the postgraduate placement module SIT316 Professional Practice in Criminology and Criminal Justice. I also contribute to the second year UG module SI0202 Responses to Crime; the third year UG module SI0609 International and Comparative Social and Public Policy; and the postgraduate module SIT314 International and Comparative Responses to Crime. 


Education and qualifications:

  • 2011: Postgraduate Certificate of Higher Education, University of Kent
  • 2009: DPhil in Law, University of Oxford
  • 2005: MSc Criminology and Criminal Justice, Distinction, University of Oxford
  • 2004: BSc (Hons) Social Policy, First Class, Open University

Honours and awards

  • Faculty Teaching Award for innovation and excellence in teaching, University of Southamton (2017)
  • Faculty Staff Achievement Award for excellence in improving student experience, University of Southampton (2015)
  • Brian Williams Prize for best article - ‘“I am the person now I was always meant to be”: Identity reconstruction and narrative reframing in therapeutic community prisons’, Criminology and Criminal Justice 12 (5): 527-47 - joint winner, British Society of Criminology (2013)
  • Sara A. Burstall Centenary Scholarship for best doctoral reserch, British Federation of Women Graduates (2008)
  • Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer Scholarship, Faculty of Law, University of Oxford (2006)
  • Faculty of Law Graduate Assistance Fund Award, University of Oxford (2005)
  • Roger Hood Prize for best result on the MSc Criminology and Criminal Justice, Centre for Criminology, University of Oxford (2005)

Professional memberships

  • Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (FHEA)
  • Member of the British Society of Criminology
  • Fellow of the Howard League for Penal Reform 

Academic positions

  • 2018 onwards: Senior Lecturer in Criminology, Cardiff University
  • 2013-17: Lecturer in Criminology, University of Southampton
  • 2009-12: Lecturer in Criminal Justice and Criminology, University of Kent
  • 2006-09: Law Faculty Graduate Teaching Assistant and Oriel College Tutor for Criminal Justice and Penology, University of Oxford
  • 2006-07: Research Assistant, Centre for Criminology, University of Oxford

Committees and reviewing

  • Associate editor, Criminology and Criminal Justice
  • Journal reviewer: Aggression and Violent Behaviour, Criminal Justice and Behavior, Criminal Behavior and Mental Health, Howard Journal of Criminal Justice, International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, International Journal of Social Research Methodology, Journal of Social Policy, Mental Health Review Journal, Policing and Society, Qualitative Inquiry, Sociological Forum
  • Grant reviewer, ESRC and The Leverhulme Trust
  • Member of the Editorial Advisory Panel for Criminology, Oxford University Press
  • Member of the Research Advisory Group, HMP Grendon


I am currently supervising four PhD candidates:

  • Faye Vanstone (with Dr Kirsty Hudson): First supervisor. Faye has completed her research with men imprisoned for rape and is nearing thesis submission.
  • Monica Thomas (with Dr Alyson Rees): First supervisor. Monica has researched the experiences of imprisoned black mothers and is nearing thesis submission.
  • Leah Reed (with Dr Robert Jones): First supervisor. Leah is in the initial stages of her PhD. She is interested in the experiences of, and issues surrounding, the imprisonment of Welsh women in the prisons in England. 
  • Bronwen Frow-Jones (with Professor Mike Levi): Second supervisor. Bronwen has collected her data on corruption in prisons and is in the analysis and writing up stages. 

I warmly welcome enquiries from prospective PhD researchers on all aspects of penology and offender rehabilitation:

  • The use and experience of prisons and imprisonment
  • Prison-based therapeutic communities and enabling environments 
  • Comparative penology
  • Offender rehabilitation, especially psychosocial approaches for violent and sexual offenders
  • Desistance from crime and resettlement following long-term imprisonment