European Commission logo
English English
CORDIS - EU research results

IndeSent: Indeterminate sentencing and imprisonment – an interdisciplinary study of the experiences of court processes and prison practices

Project description

Study on Indeterminate Sentencing and Imprisonment in Denmark

In Denmark, indeterminate prison sentences are used for people who commit very serious offenses and who are deemed likely to re-offend. In such cases, the prisoners must go through a lengthy process of change in order to be considered for release. While the impact of this uncertainty has been reviewed in other European countries, Denmark lacks such research. The EU-funded IndeSent project studies prisoners' experience of being indeterminately sentenced and imprisoned, combining analysis of two different levels of punishment; court and prison. The project applies ethnographic methods in its study of 1) court cases, including observations of and interviews about the moral communication from judges and defendants' interpretation hereof, as well as 2) daily practices, experiences and interactions in prison.


In Denmark, indeterminate sentences are given to people who commit serious offences (murder, aggravated violence, sexual offenses, arson, and robbery) and who are deemed likely to reoffend due to previous offending and their mental state. They are held in prison indeterminately in order to protect the public and enable rehabilitation - a practice which is in line with the Council of Europe’s recommendations. Indeterminate sentences have one particular feature that sets them aside from all other types of imprisonment: there is no guarantee of ever being released. This uncertainty often results in severe pains for the prisoners in question. While there is a fairly rich literature on indeterminate imprisonment in the Anglo-phone countries, the last explorative study of indeterminate imprisonment in the Nordic countries was conducted over 50 years ago, hence our understanding of contemporary experiences of indeterminate confinement remains very limited. IndeSent responds to the Council of Europe’s call for more research focused on the needs of the offender in the light of the negative effects of the often long-term imprisonment. The research project will provide an in-depth examination of the experience of being indeterminately sentenced by a court and of serving an indeterminate sentence in prison. The combination of courts and prison practices is one of the most pioneering aspects of the proposed research, illustrating the connections between the wider aims and functions of the penal state and the everyday practices, experiences and interactions in prison. Usually, there is a sharp distinction between the allocation and delivery of punishment; the first happens in courts and the second in penal institutions. Using ethnographic research methods (participant observation, in-depth interviews and a Dialogue Group), IndeSent will address this gap in the scholarship by focusing on the experiences of the indeterminate sentenced in the two arenas of punishment.


Net EU contribution
€ 219 312,00
1165 Kobenhavn

See on map

Danmark Hovedstaden Byen København
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Total cost
€ 219 312,00