Prison and the brain

Jesse Meijers*, Joke M. Harte, E.J.A. Scherder

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterAcademicpeer-review


Imprisonment is a common punishment in most countries. Goals of imprisonment are often not only retribution, but also prevention. Specific prevention aims to reduce the risk of reoffending of the imprisoned offender. The question is whether the goals of retribution and specific prevention contradict each other. Retribution is not only expressed in taking away ones freedom, but also in the prison environment itself. Prisoners live in a sober regime, with a minimal amount of autonomy. There are few cognitive challenges, meaningful social interaction is reduced significantly, and many prisoners are highly sedentary. In other words, prison can be viewed as an impoverished environment. In the last few decades, much knowledge has been gained on the influence of enriched versus impoverished environment on the brain. In this chapter, we discuss the influence of the impoverished prison environment on brain functions of prisoners, with an emphasis on self-regulation and executive functions, since these functions are (1) often impaired in offenders, (2) highly sensitive to environmental influences, and (3) crucial for successful resocialization. We conclude this chapter by discussing possibilities for and potential effects of enriching prison environments.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationHandbook of Clinical Neurology
Number of pages9
ISBN (Electronic)9780128213766 9
ISBN (Print)9780128213759 9
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2023

Publication series

NameHandbook of Clinical Neurology
ISSN (Print)0072-9752
ISSN (Electronic)2212-4152


  • Environmental enrichment
  • Executive functions
  • Forensic neuropsychology
  • Impoverished environment
  • Prison
  • Self-regulation


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