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Research Themes

Does Harm Matter More than 'Crime'?

The central theme here is a consideration of the significance of harm rather than crime as a key set of social problems and thereby raises questions such as, how can we measure harms and what via what sources of data, and in this context a key aim is to develop ‘bottom-up’ (that is, quasi-epidemiological) harm audits which can be used in a variety of contexts (for example, in a local geographical area, or within specific settings, such as prisons). Further questions raised include, how can we categorise, conceptualise and theorise harms; how might we prioritise amongst identified harms; what are the relationships between harms and crimes; how might harms be more effectively treated through public and social policy, not least through welfare, rather than criminal justice policy.

The Uses and Abuses of Evidence in Criminal Justice?

The theme of this strand of work is around the nature of evidence. Thus we address questions such as: how is this evidence mobilized, gathered, assessed, prioritised, by what agencies and institutions, and so on; how does evidence relate, or does not relate, to policy, for example through the long-term focus on ‘what works’ or via the distinction between policy led-evidence and evidence-led policy. What historical lessons might be learnt from as regards the uses and abuses of evidence – and to what extent has this learning taken place? This also indicates the nature and use of evidence in the form of research: what and who counts as sources of research data and why, what methods tend to be prioritised over others and why, what research gets funded and how this relates to the relative legitimacy of such research, and so on. In short, how do various forms of evidence generate or potentially mitigate harm?

From Criminalisation to De-Criminalisation?

Here, we consider the ways in which and the extent to which criminalisation, through criminal justice systems and processes, themselves cause significant forms of harm – physical, psychological, social and economic. Can these be prevented and/or ameliorated? If so, how? If not, how should we explore alternatives to criminal justice and criminalisation as responses to personal and social troubles? Thus we will consider alternative responses to ‘crime’ – through social, public and economic policy, via the lenses of both comparative research as well as academic engagement with counter-hegemonic activities – which reduce reliance on criminal justice and criminalization as primary mechanisms means of governing social problems and problematised populations.

Further coherence between these themes is maintained in two ways.

First, through a shared commitment to comparative and innovative methodologies, not least those which challenge both ‘top-down’ and positivistic conceptions of knowledge-production and use and which require engagement with a diverse range of stakeholders.

Second, via a general  commitment to public engagement academics and students, policy-makers, practitioners, non-governmental stakeholders at all levels, within and beyond the criminal justice and welfare sectors, as well as with wider publics.