Women's Imprisonment, Social Control and the Carceral State (WISCA)


WISCA stands for Women's Imprisonment, Social Control and the Carceral State and is a research project based in Faculty VI at University of Trier from 2021-2026.

Who are we?

The project is led by Dr. Anna Schliehe and supervised by Prof. Dr Jennifer Turner. We both work at Universität Trier and are experienced prison researchers who have studied prisons in different countries for many years. This research project is independently funded by the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions, part of the European Commission.

Why are we running this project?

We are interested in examining women's experiences in German prisons as this represents a research gap and little is known about how women experience confinement. We chose Germany as the target area of this project because there is little data in an international comparison.  In terms of the implementation of the penal system it lies between the more punitive states, such as the USA and Great Britain, and the more welfare-orientated states, such as Norway. Part of our project is investigating whether this is really the case and what the actual experiences on the ground are like. We are interested in finding out how different facets of imprisonment are experienced, but also whether and how social control works beyond that. We will conduct qualitative interviews with imprisoned women in North-Rhine-Westphalia who are at different times in their imprisonment and also with women after imprisonment. We will also conduct a statistical survey. The interview/questionnaire will be about personal experiences of prison life. Various topics are broached, such as the relationship with employees, living with other prisoners and the relationship with the judicial system in general. Only the most necessary personal data is collected.

The study was approved by the ethics committee of the University of Oldenburg. If you would like more information about the ethical aspects of the study, you can contact the research team.

Scientific background

Prison research in Germany is largely quantitative in nature, based mostly on data from male prisoners, who make up the vast majority of prisoners. The fact that women are far outnumbered can pose a variety of challenges for prison administrations, often resulting in women being treated less favourably than incarcerated men. WISCA responds to the Council of Europe's call for more research and a gender-sensitive approach that pays particular attention to the potential amplification of problems faced by women in prison.

Women have largely gone unnoticed in scholarly studies of central criminal law issues such as legitimacy and order. However, female prisoners are particularly interesting precisely because many reform agendas are being tested on this relatively small and apparently more controllable group. In the search for penal reform ideas, all attention has been focused on the Nordic countries and neglected on the central European countries, despite low incarceration rates.

Due to a lack of qualitative research, little is known about the experiences of women prisoners in Germany. Furthermore, within carceral geography as an emerging discipline, no researcher has analysed data from Germany so far, so this project will offer an extension of carceral geography and qualitative criminology for the German-speaking interdisciplinary field. By using mainly qualitative research methods with some quantitative elements, WISCA will address these gaps. It focuses on the experiences of women prisoners to show the dynamics of the judiciary and the punitive state, the texture of incarceration as lived and experienced, and networks of social control after release.

Associated publications

Schliehe, A. (2021) Young Women’s Carceral Geographies: Abandonment, Trouble and Mobility. Bingley: Emerald Publishing.

Crowley, A. R., Schliehe, A. K., & Vogel, M. (2021) Girlhood incarcerated: Perspectives from secure care. In: M. Vogel & L. Arnell (Eds.) Living Like a Girl: Agency, Social Vulnerability and Welfare Measures in a European Context. New York: Berghahn Books.

Moran, D., Turner, J. & Schliehe, A. (2018) Conceptualizing the carceral in carceral geography Progress in Human Geography 42(5) 666-686

Schliehe, A (2014) Inside ‘the carceral’: Girls and young women in the Scottish Criminal Justice System. Scottish Geographical Journal 130(2) 71-85