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Research projects

Overview research projects

Needs for re-integration and reduction of recidivism among incarcerated persons (BRuG-project)

The BRuG-research aims to scientifcally underpin the further development of the activity and service offer in Flemish and Brussels prisons, based on the needs and underlying problems experienced by incarcerated people. This mixed-method research consists of two phases. In a frist phase, the aim is to provide insight into the Flemisch and Brussels prison population anno 2021. In a second phase, we look deeper into the needs and barriers incarcerated people experience upon release, both on short term and medium term. Within this research, focus lies on re-integration-enhancing factors and the role activity and service providers plays within the re-integration process. This research project runs from December 2021 until January 2024 and is funded by the Flemish governement, department Welfare, Public Health and Family. For more information, contact Leen Vandevelde or Dorien Brosens.

When words fail, music speaks: Understanding the processes and outcomes of music programs in prison 

Research indicates that music programs in prison trigger several outcomes for incarcerated people (e.g. managing and expressing emotions, facilitating self-development, providing respite, facilitating connections). However, limited research focuses on how, why, for whom and under which circumstances music programs in prison lead (or fail to lead) to these outcomes. Starting from the perspective of realist evaluation, this project aims to provide a better understanding of these outcomes through identifying the mechanisms and contextual factors of music programs in prison. This docotral research is funded by the Flemish Research Foundation (FWO, fundamental fellowship) and runs from November 2021 until October 2025. For more information, contact Silke Marynissen or Dorien Brosens.

Peer projects in prison: Understanding the outcomes, mechanisms and contextual factors

Prisoners across the world start to implement peer programs. In these programs, incarcerated people are trained to educate, tutor, or support their fellow incarcerated peers. The aim of this research project is to provide insight into the effectiveness of peer programs (e.g. for individual peer workers, peer recipients, prisons). A fundamental understanding of how, why, for whom and under which circumstances peer programs lead to such outcomes remains an untapped vein of exploration. Consequently, the project aims to identify the mechanisms and contextual factors that give rise to these outcomes. This project runs from November 2021 until October 2024 and is funded by the Flemish Research Foundation (senior postdoctoral fellowship). For more information, contact Dorien Brosens.

A mixed-method study into the educational participation, skills and learning difficulties of female prisoners in Belgium and Norway

In collaboration with the University of Bergen (Norway), the PALD research group is conducting a mixed-method study among female prisoners in Belgium and Norway. On the one hand, questionnaires are conducted among both Norwegian and Belgian female prisoners regarding their educational participation, learning difficulties, skills, etc. On the other hand, focus group interviews are held with female prisoners in both countries about their motives, barriers, experiences and needs with regard to education in prison, learning, and learning difficulties. For more information, contact Dorien Brosens.

Education behind bars abroad

The Dutch foundation “Education behind foreign bars” (Eabt) was founded in 2004 with the aim of enabling Dutch nationals detained abroad to follow education which is provided by the Netherlands. As part of their 15-years of existance, a mixed-method evaluation study was set up among professionals, volunteers and prisoners. For more information, contact Dorien Brosens.

Sports in Prison – A Plan for the Future

Sports in Prison - A Plan for the Future', is a European project that wants to investigate how and to what extent sport can be a means to achieve social profit, not only within a detention context but also -and especially- after returning to society. The research will run over three years (2020-2022). Several partners are involved in the project: Rode Antraciet (Belgium), Vrije Universiteit Brussel (Belgium), Unione Italiana Sport Per Tutti (Italy)Dienst Justitiële Inrichtingen (The Netherlands), United Professionals for Sustainable Development (Bulgaria) and Udruga za kreativni socijalni rad (Croatia). For more information, contact Marc Theeboom, Hebe Schaillée or Inge Derom.

Prisoners’ Active Citizenship (PAC)

PAC, or ‘Prisoners’ Active Citizenship’, is a European project (Erasmus+, key action 2) about active citizenship among prisoners, and runs from December 2017 until the end of 2019. Various European partners are involved in the project, such as De Rode Antraciet (Belgium, coordinator), Prison Education Trust (UK), Associate for Creative Social Work (Croatia), Unione Italiana Sport Per Tutti (Italy), Changes and Chances (The Netherlands) and Vrije Universiteit Brussel (Belgium), and is supported by European Prison Education Association (EPEA), EuroPris, and Federal Public Service Justice. The goal of the project is to test various existing or new participation models in different European prisons and to develop a participation toolkit based on these experiences. Results are:

For more information, contact Dorien Brosens.

Learning together in detention

In 2017, the Department of Criminology started an innovative educational project 'Learning together in detention'. Prisoners in Beveren prison followed the course of penology in prison together with prison officers and students of the VUB. After the project, the Department of Criminology conducted an evaluation study in which all students were questioned about their experiences. For more information, contact An-Sofie Vanhouche

Foreigners’ Involvement and Participation in Prison (FIP2)

The FIP2-project is a four-year research project (2017-2021) on “Foreigners’ Involvement and Participation in Prison”. The project is funded by the Research Foundation Flanders (FWO) and is a collaboration between researchers of Ghent University, University college Avans (The Netherlands) and Vrije Universiteit Brussel. The FIP2-project aims to acquire more insight into the participation of foreign national prisoners. For more information, contact Flore Croux or Dorien Brosens.

FORINER (providing education for foreing national inmates)

The European FORINER project (2016-2017), funded through the European programme Erasmus+ (key action 3), was initiated to provide prisoners detained in a foreign European country with access to educational courses offered by their home country, in their own language. In 2017, fifteen pilot projects have been developed and implemented throughout Europe. The aim of these pilot projects was to test how distance education for foreign national prisoners can be realized (both on paper and digital). Several partners were formally involved in FORINER: VOCVO (Belgium – project coordinator), Education Behind Foreign Prison Bars (the Netherlands), MegaNexus (UK) and Vrije Universiteit Brussel (Belgium). Besides, the project can also count on the cooperation of four associated partners: European Prison Education Association (EPEA), EuroPris, Confederation of European probation (CEP), and Weston College. The Vrije Universiteit Brussel was the academic partner in this project.  Results are:

For more information, contact Dorien Brosens.

Participation and involvement of prisoners – prison of Ghent

The ‘participation and involvement project’ in the prison of Ghent (2014-2016) has been initiated by the steering Committee participation of the prison of Ghent. The research project aimed to gain insight into the current participation initiatives in the prison of Ghent, their added value, who participates and who is excluded, and the preconditions to realize prisoners’ participation and involvement in prison life. Results are [In Dutch]:

For more information, contact Dorien Brosens.

Food in prison

The research on food in prison was a four-year doctoral research (2013-2016). The research was funded by the Flemish Research Council (Fonds Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek) and was a collaboration between the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (research group Crime & Society and FOST-Social & Cultural Food Studies) and the University of Southern Denmark. Prof. Dr. Kristel Beyens, Prof. Dr. Peter Scholliers and Dr. Linda Kjaer Minke were the promotors of this research. Dr. An-Sofie Vanhouche and Esther Jehaes worked as researchers on the project. The aim of the research was to gain more insight into the socio-cultural role of nutrition in prison. During this research, inmates and staff discussed formal and informal forms of learning in which nutrition plays a role. For more information, contact An-Sofie Vanhouche.

Research of the needs of prisoners - prison of Antwerp

Between 2011 and 2013 a research project to investigate the needs of prisoners was set up in the prison of Antwerp. The main objective of the research project was to support the actors of the Flemish Community in the further development of their activity offer. The research paid attention to the profile of prisoners that do (not) participate in several activities, as well as their related motives or barriers. It also examined how the activity providers can support prisoners in making the bridge between prison and society. Results are [In Dutch]:

For more information, contact Dorien Brosens.

Prisoners on the move

The project ‘Prisoners on the move’ started in January 2011 and ended the 30th of June 2012. Financially it was supported by the Directorat-General Education and Culture of the European Commission. The project explored the opportunities and possibilities sport and physical exercise can acquire within prison walls. De Rode Antraciet vzw’ coordinated this project involving partners from six different EU Member states. Results are:

For more information, contact Marc Theeboom.