Keele Criminologist addresses probation officers’ conference

Dr Mary Corcoran was invited to speak to a Fringe meeting at the annual convention of the National Association of Probation Officers [NAPO] at Southport on Friday October 5th.   Dr Corcoran spoke about her research on the impact of the Transforming Rehabilitation policy which involved splitting the national probation service into a smaller public service, while contracting out (‘privatising’) the greater part of the public probation service to commercial and social enterprise sectors.  The defining justification for privatisation was that it proposed a new model  in which the public sector would work in partnership along with the private and voluntary sectors to reduce reoffending and to drive recidivism downwards.  Recidivism  in England and Wales is high, with about 6 in every 10 people leaving prison reoffending within 12 months.
Dr Corcoran reminded the meeting that the voluntary and charitable sector is often invisible and undervalued, despite the fact that it is  an indispensable source of support for people caught up in the criminal justice system, as well as with those affected by crime. Many voluntary organisations were initially enthusiastic about the prospect of having their contribution valued and being recognised as equal partners in resettlement and rehabilitation.  Three years on, their confidence has sharply declined.  A series of public inquiries into the profound failures of Transforming Rehabilitation has found that the voluntary sector contribution to resettlement is at an historical low.
Dr Corcoran presented the findings of her research which showed that a minority of mainly large-scale charities did quite well from working with the private sector, but the majority of smaller charities lost out under the programme.  However, she argued that ‘although there is a great deal of anger and disappointment with the near collapse of probation and resettlement, it cannot all be attributed to privatisation and outsourcing.  Instead, we need to look at several events which coincided from 2015, and which detrimentally affected the capacity of charities, especially smaller and medium-sized volunteer-based charities, to continue their work with vulnerable groups, including offenders.   For example, the impact of austerity has been far more damaging on local charities because they have suffered up to 50 per cent cuts from their traditional funders in local government and philanthropic trusts.  Huge budgetary cuts also led to a reduced capacity for prisons to work with the voluntary sector.  Voluntary sector organisations are now having to absorb the consequences of cutbacks to other public services, especially drugs and alcohol, violence perpetration or mental health services, so charities are now dealing with service users with multiple, complex needs and untreated problems’.
That being said, she continued, there were serious flaws in the funding model for Transforming Rehabilitation, which was based on a ‘pyramid style, trickle-down’ contracting model.  ‘The idea was that new rehabilitation companies, made up of large for-profit businesses and some large charities, would receive the contracts to provide probation services. There was an understanding that they would distribute some of that work to smaller, locally-based charities.  That did not transpire because the rehabilitation companies inherited a very complex system, but also because they began to lose money from the outset.  More predictable, however, was the impact of contract competition which replaced grant funding.  This exposed small charities to predatory competitive activities from business and from other charities.  Coupled with the hollowing out of traditional funding sources, a number of small charities were either swallowed up by large competitors, shut their doors or reduced their services’.
Dr Corcoran summed up:  Transforming Rehabilitation did not so much cause difficulties for the voluntary sector and for resettlement at large, but it did accelerate some trends that were in the making for decades.  ‘Some voluntary sector scholars would conclude that this is a classic example of the life-cycle of the charitable sector, which frequently experiences a ‘shake out’ during periods of crisis.  Indeed, the research tends to describe the survivors as “winners” and those who lost out as “losers'”  In this case, there are no clear “winners” and “losers”.  Those large charities which formed part of the rehabilitation companies have lost out financially and reputationally.  Many charities that did not win any contracts now feel vindicated by events.   Participants had to compromise on their missions, ethos, methods and relationships with beneficiaries.  There is a great deal of work ahead to restore trust and confidence in the voluntary sector’s relationships with the state, and to include the sector in its place as part of the social justice landscape.’

New project on prevention of mobile phone use by drivers led by Keele Criminologists

Today sees the start of a project entitled ‘Innovators and innovations in preventing mobile phone use while driving: sharing and improving practice’ being led by Dr Helen Wells (Senior Lecturer in Criminology at Keele) and Leanne Savigar (PhD student in Criminology at Keele).

The £75,000, 13 month project, which uses a knowledge exchange methodology, will explore the range of current initiatives being implemented across the UK to reduce mobile phone use by drivers – arguably one of the biggest challenges facing the road safety community at the present time. The project will encourage practitioners to engage with academic research to help them design research-informed projects and to plan for meaningful evaluations of them.

You can follow the progress of the project via Twitter @roadspolicing.

Keele postgraduate criminologist contributes to research into autism and policing

Kleio Cossburn, a student on the MA in Criminology and Criminal Justice at Keele University, has been involved in several publications looking at the ways in which police and other emergency services respond to people with autism.

Prior to joining the MA programme, Kleio was formerly a police officer with Cheshire Constabulary.  She then studied for a Postgraduate Certificate in Autism at Sheffield Hallam University and was subsequently invited to co-found an autism research team.  She also contributed to the development of the National Autism Society’s report ‘Autism: A Guide for Police Officers and Staff‘ which provides background information about autism to police so that they might meet their responsibilities under the Equality Act 2010.

auto, automobile, blur

Her latest work draws on her knowledge as a former police officer, as well as her own experience of autism, to investigate the appropriateness of police use of controversial ‘spit hoods’ on autistic suspects.  It appears in volume two of the collection ‘Autism and Intellectual Disability in Adults‘ edited by  Dr Damian Milton and Professor Nicola Martin.

Kleio has also contributed, as a co-author, a chapter on first responders and autism for the latest version of the Encyclopedia of Autism Spectrum Disorders (in press) edited by Professor Fred Volkmar of Yale University.

Keele Criminologist contributes to design of new warning system for drivers using a mobile phone

A new road safety device was launched at the TISPOL (European Traffic Police Network) road safety conference in Manchester last week. The system detects the use of a mobile phone in a passing vehicle, whether that use is for calling, texting or data purposes. The device was developed by the traffic safety systems company Westcotec who are based in Norfolk, with the assistance of Dr Helen Wells, a Criminologist from Keele with a specific interest in roads policing.

Westcotec’s Chris Spinks said “It was a chance meeting with Dr Wells at the National Roads Policing Conference in early 2017 that led to our mobile phone detector system being redesigned and improved to the point where it has now been released to the world. Thanks to her work around driver behaviour – particularly distraction – she was able to help us redesign the pictogram representation of the phone on the sign to ensure it was recognisable to all road users. She also gave us an insight into some of the psychology behind why drivers decide to do what they do. We are hopeful that we can continue to benefit from Dr Wells’ extensive experience and knowledge in her field as we develop other devices into the future”.


Dr Helen Wells with Chris Spinks of Westcotec


The system is built around a sensor capable of detecting vehicles where there are active 2G, 3G and 4G phone signals, plus an LED warning sign which is placed a short distance along the road from where the sensor is located. When the sensor detects that a mobile is being used (other than for Bluetooth communication), it activates a sign showing an illuminated smart phone icon within a bright red circle and diagonal red line. It is hoped that this will deter drivers from engaging in the activity, as holding a conversation via a handheld mobile device has been found to quadruple the likelihood of a driver being involved in an incident, as well as increasing the likelihood of a driver engaging in a range of other unsafe driving behaviours, and is arguably one of the biggest road safety challenges of the present time.

The use of handheld devices has been illegal since 2003, and the recent increase in the penalty for this offence from 3 to 6 points and £100 to £200 represents an important step in educating drivers, but with declining numbers of traffic officers on our roads, we cannot rely on enforcement alone to change driver behaviour. Attempts at educating drivers, such as the Westcotec sign, therefore have an important part to play in tackling this issue.

Added to that, the pace of technological development is fast outstripping both the ability of the 15 year old law to keep pace with the actual nature of the problem, and the ability of the road safety community to offer an effective response. The law refers to ‘driver’, ‘use’ of a ‘handheld’ ‘phone’ – four terms which are arguably a lot less clear now than when the law was drafted. Semi-autonomous cars now complicate the issue of ‘driving’, whilst tapping, speaking to, or even looking at a phone (rather than physically dialling or texting) may now qualify as ‘use’. Google watches and other wearable technologies now routinely have ‘phone-like’ functions, but it is not clear if wearing qualifies as being ‘handheld’. Finally, a ‘phone’ today is more reminiscent of a desk top computer than the calling and texting devices on the market in 2003, suggesting that the time has come to revisit the law relating to this type of activity.

Dr Wells also commented that “handsfree use has been shown to be equally as dangerous as handheld use, yet is legal, so any driver assuming that the law was a good guide to safe behaviour would be encouraged to use an equally unsafe alternative. The Westcotec sign has a simple message about using a mobile in any sense of the word, and therefore reinforces a wider safety message than that being communicated by the law.”
Whilst the device cannot differentiate between driver and passenger use of a mobile phone, Wescotec’s Chris Spinks “The vast majority of activations will relate to drivers, and we don’t see a problem when passengers activate the sign. In fact, it’s all part of the education message that using a phone when driving is not only illegal but very dangerous.”

The first system is due to go live in Norfolk later this month, with several other UK police forces expressing an interest.

Keele Criminologists contribute to new book featuring early career scholars

Two members of the Keele Criminology team have contributed chapters to a new edited collection featuring chapters written by PhD students and early careers academics.  The book ‘Emerging Voices’ is published by the European Group Press, the publishing house of the European Group for the Study of Deviance and Social Control – an international network of scholars and activists working towards social justice, state accounCover227.6.2017tability and decarceration.

The chapter by Dr Andrew Henley  (Lecturer in Criminology) is entitled ‘Criminal records and conditional citizenship: towards a critical sociology of post-sentence discrimination’.  It argues for an expansion of critical social research on punishment -which traditionally has focussed on prisons, community punishments and the differential punishment of particular groups of people based on class, race and gender.  In his chapter, Andrew suggests that there is a growing need for scholars of punishment to focus upon the ‘after effects’ of penal sanctions brought about due to criminal records.  He does this by setting out why the possession of a criminal record has serious consequences for the ability of people to enjoy many of the rights and entitlements associated with ‘citizenship’.

The chapter by Hannah Wilkinson (who has recently been appointed as a Teaching Fellow in Criminology) is entitled ‘”What was it all for?”: 21st Century theatres of war and the return to “post-conflict” life’.  It draws upon Hannah’s doctoral research with former military personnel who have served in recent conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq to highlight and discuss a number of apparent gaps in knowledge within the growing body of literature on the ‘criminology of war’.  It also sets out some of the interim findings of her research and introduces the new theoretical concept of ‘combat capital’ which Hannah is developing.

In keeping with the inclusive ethos of the European Group the book is reasonably priced at only £10 and is available to purchase through either the European Group Press website or via Amazon.

New article on the ethics of research narratives

Keele Criminologists past and present produce new article for the Research Ethics journal

Keele Criminologist Dr Tony Kearon, in conjunction with his former PhD student and Keele Criminology alumnus Dr Ian Mahoney (now a Lecturer at Liverpool Hope University), have a new publication in the journal Research Ethics which is now available online. The case study, entitled ‘(De)Constructing Ethical Narratives in Criminological Research’, reflects upon their experiences as a doctoral research student (Mahoney) and supervisor (Kearon) and the manner in which we as criminological researchers construct ethical narratives around the research that we do (research that routinely involves individuals that have committed criminal offences and/or are coming to terms with experiences of criminal victimisation).


Dr Ian Mahoney

The authors focus on the tensions which arise between the ethical review board (ERB) guidelines, procedures and practices that criminological researchers are routinely held to by their institutions and the practical realities of conducting empirical fieldwork that is crime related. They argue that strict adherence to ERB guidelines can be sometimes be problematic and risks causing more harms than it seeks to mitigate.


Dr Tony Kearon

The authors use their experiences of conducting fieldwork to show that researchers should consider the potential harm caused to particularly vulnerable participants and draw attention to the need to refocus away from simply responding to specific disclosures of behaviours by participants towards their wider biographical narratives and future trajectories. In doing so, they argue that we should move away from research ethics based on a narrow, bureaucratic framework and towards moral concerns so as to avoid causing undue harm. This publication marks the first in of a series of intended discussions in which they seek to problematise the relationships between ethics, bureaucratic governance frameworks, the demands of research commissioners, and the challenges that arise while conducting empirical criminological research.

New publication from Keele criminologist in leading journal

The new article from Dr Clare Griffiths explores trust and confidence in the police amongst established residents and Polish migrants


Dr Clare Griffiths

Keele Criminology’s Dr Clare Griffiths has a new publication in the European Journal of Criminology that is now available online. The article, entitled ‘The Disjuncture between Confidence and Cooperation: Police Contact amongst Polish Migrants and Established Residents’, is based on Clare’s PhD research that explored Polish migration and its impacts on social order in a small working class town in the North West of England. The article itself considers the trust and confidence in the local police amongst both the more established residents of the area as well as the incoming Polish migrants, and how this affects actual contact and cooperation with the police. Despite claims that immigrant and minority groups are more often alienated from local institutions and are less likely to express positive evaluations of the police, Clare’s research found that Polish migrants in fact have greater confidence in the local police than do local residents. In an attempt to explain such findings, Dr Griffiths suggests a ‘habitus’ model whereby past histories of police corruption could be entrenched in the minds of Polish migrants helping to shape the more positive perceptions and interactions with the police in their new social setting. A further explanation for such positive attitudes was provided in the form of a general lack of ‘social distance’ between Polish migrants and the local community in the area. One of the key findings from the PhD was such a lack of social distance in the form of ‘civilised relationships’ between Polish migrants and local residents and could therefore extend to perceptions of local institutions such as the police.

Confidence in the police is argued to be a necessary precursor to cooperation. However, the findings in the article suggest that confidence does not necessarily have a direct role to play in police-community cooperation. Although new migrants have confidence in the local police, they remain reluctant to contact them and they report crime incidents less as compared to the local group who have less confidence in the police. This seems mostly due to language difficulties and fear of reprisals from within their own group. Local residents on the other hand have less confidence in the police but are more likely to contact them when needed. Therefore, inhabitants of contemporary diverse neighbourhoods can be simultaneously ‘disenchanted and engaged’ or ‘satisfied and disengaged’. This suggests more complex and nuanced processes exist in diverse and changing neighbourhoods than that previously proposed in a predominantly American context and has important implications for learning about the unique and complex relationships that diverse communities have with the police.