Crime and Justice Research

News Desk4 months ago

The articles in this section on a particular issue emerged from discussions held at an April 2019 event organized by Criminology & Criminal Justice and the British Society of Criminology. The papers that follow discuss the subsequent discussion over the future of funding for crime and justice research and address a “think-piece” that Richard Sparks gave at that event. From their many perspectives, contributors consider the potential and difficulties brought about by recent changes in funding allocations and priorities. They stress the value of multidisciplinary and global collaboration, evaluate the top areas for future funding in the field of crime and justice studies, and call attention to the effects of a culture that is becoming more risk-averse and restrictive on critical inquiry. The papers explore the consequences for criminology as a discipline and warn of the potential reinforcement of existing inequalities in academia unless action is taken to support the development of future researchers.

Early in 2018, the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) asked me to write a 12-page “think piece” about the possibilities for Research Council funding in the field of crime and justice research.1. There were thirteen invites like this one. These were given to academics studying subjects that, for a variety of reasons, including their relative novelty in some cases and their multidisciplinary nature in others, appeared to have gained relatively little attention in the past several years.
The papers were to be written in three main sections using a standard form. They were as follows:

A summary of the existing situation, highlighting its scope, pointing out the main “gaps,” and making some observations about the data and capacity building needs. Important prospects and future paths, encompassing subjects like cooperation, globalization, impact, and interdisciplinarity. Suggestions regarding the most effective areas for ESRC to concentrate its upcoming funds in order to significantly advance the field’s research.

The authors were advised to consult as many people in the field as possible, including researchers, users, and commissioners of research, over the roughly three months that they had to compose these pieces. The shift that was then occurring from the seven existing Research Councils, which were thought of as different but cooperating organizations, to the development of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI)2 as an overarching entity was a critical component of the context of this mission (for I chose, rashly, to accept it). These papers were primarily intended to advise the ESRC Council and staff on strategy, but they also intended to be widely discussed, or at the very least, their Executive Summaries published.

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As a result, I take full responsibility for the ideas and assert that I did my best to represent the variety of opinions that people took the time and care to construct and submit to me. I am therefore limited to presenting a streamlined version of my case here. In order to concentrate on certain “big picture” topics regarding the state of the field both today and, to the extent that we can see it, in the coming few decades, I have eliminated some of the more technical elements, such as those pertaining to impact routes or data sharing. I am unable to comment for the ESRC’s final decisions, which are, in any event, no longer the primary focus of this discussion.

In theory, there is a very wide range of study being done in the areas of crime and justice. It has always been the case that drawing borders around the issues of crime and justice to suggest that just certain subjects, concepts, approaches, or methodologies are appropriate is difficult, and in some cases, outright impossible.
This expansiveness should not be seen as a difficulty at first, or as a problem in the narrow sense. It implies that a wide range of other societal issues and trends are intertwined with the criminal justice system. They must be “thought” in conjunction with other important organizations, procedures, and methods in order to be effectively “thought” of.

Here, in order to try to gain some perspective on this question of ‘scope’, I organize this research area into six broad themes, in roughly ascending order of scale. These are in no sense evaluative judgements (all the themes noted here are vital and intensely topical ones), but they may disclose different opportunities for investment, and different potential impacts among readers and users of research.

Crime as behavior. While the most traditional goal of “criminological”4 inquiry is to explain or otherwise understand the actions of people identified as having violated criminal law (or of other people in interaction with them – victims of crime, for example), this is by no means the only or even the dominant reason why the field exists today. However, the United Kingdom has produced some of the best work in the world on crime, social exclusion, and urban fortunes (marked by robust observational research methodology and anchoring in place), occasionally with financing from the ESRC.

Pathways and trajectories. Longitudinal studies of pathways and transitions, often of a cohort drawn from a single city (Edinburgh, Peterborough) are designed to illuminate questions such as the differing outcomes in terms of crime and victimization among people growing up in different areas or subject to other influences or disadvantages.

Criminal justice structures and decision-making (domestically, comparably, and increasingly internationally) are a major area of study in the field of crime and justice. Researchers in the UK have been at the vanguard of recent efforts to raise concerns about the scope, goals, and efficiency of the institutions of crime control that are now in place.9.This is becoming more and more concerned with a variety of different regulatory actors in and outside of the criminal justice system, including those in the private, voluntary, or “third” sectors, in addition to the operations of public police forces, probation or prison services, and other well-known state organizations.





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