Dr Diana Miranda has recently joined the Keele Criminology team as a teaching fellow. In this blog post she provides an overview her PhD thesis which, in December, she successfully defended at the University of Minho in Portugal.
My doctoral research explored the meanings attributed to criminal identification technologies and their uses. This study drew on a set of different viewpoints and knowledge of actors involved in the diverse practices of criminal identification. On one hand, the individual who is classified as criminal and the usual target of these practices, and on the other, the professionals that identify and classify him as such in criminal investigation and prison contexts. Following the experiences of these different actors, the thesis studied the way criminal identification technologies are used in practice and explored their impacts in the co-construction of the criminal body and identity.
Diana defending her PhD thesis at the University of Minho, Portugal in December.
The thesis concluded that the diverse social, technological, human and non-human elements and the interactions established between them are situated in a complex socio-technical network that highlights the multiplicity of perspectives around technologies and the heterogeneity of its effects. Considering the agency of identification technologies and the influence they have on the way social actors interact, the figure of the hybrid comes as a solution. The research posed the concept of a ‘double game’ (I/other) played by ‘double agents’ (humans and non-humans) to explore the process of co-construction of the criminal and his body.
The reflection around this process led to development of a conceptual analysis of the dynamics of dominance, submission and resistance. These dynamics endure in a strategic game played by the different actors in the course of identification rituals that are assumed as a product of specific power configurations. Finally, the thesis explored new strategies for the exercise of power emerging from the ‘biologization’ of criminality and the (re)configuration of suspicion, as a rationale for the constant targeting of the criminal as a suspect.
Dr Mary Corcoran (Keele) and Dr Sarah Kingston (Lancaster) have been awarded £50,000 under the HEFCE ‘Catalyst Bid’ scheme, to research how students on academic Criminology degree programmes can translate their knowledge and skills into work-based settings.
Dr Mary Corcoran, Senior Lecturer in Criminology
The project, called ‘Bridging connections: Improving the links between academic and work-related learning by Criminology students’ will involve 100 Criminology students across both Universities during the academic year 2017/18. Although many universities are developing strategies for enhancing student ‘employability’ , far less attention has been paid to the possible bridges that can be made between academic knowledge and work-related learning.
The research will capture and use learner analytics to develop innovative pedagogical tools that support students to recognize, reflect on, articulate and apply criminological knowledge to their experiences in work-related modules. This will be captured through an Internet based survey, focus groups and interviews with current and former students, workplace experience providers and university staff.
Dr Corcoran said, ‘Keele and Lancaster run pioneering modules in their Criminology programmes that support students to obtain work experience, volunteering and career preparatory skills. These are not vocational modules, but provide springboards for students to integrate career-facing activities as embedded aspects of their experience of academic learning. Our aim is to determine “what works” in improving critical learning outcomes and to develop tools that will support best practice in this area’.
Anne Worrall, Professor Emerita of Criminology, has edited and published, as an ebook, a novel written by her mother in the early 1950s, based on her experiences as a probation officer in London in the Second World War.
Professor Emerita Anne Worrall
Miss Hall’s Girls is a semi-autobiographical novel, written in the early 1950s, by Julia Steel. It tells a touching story of hope, fear and resilience, offering a unique historical perspective on the lives of ordinary families in extraordinary circumstances – often struggling to survive bombs, evacuation and rations.
In particular, it focuses on the lives of women and girls, from the perspective of the local probation officer. However, for many, ‘survival’ sometimes means resorting to crime.
For the teenage girls described in the novel, the only excitement is meeting American soldiers in the local dance hall. Worried parents call the probation officer, Mary Hall, who valiantly tries to keep the girls ‘out of trouble’. But trouble takes many forms and, while the war may come to an end, its consequences don’t.
The ebook is available to download from either Amazon or the publishers, YPD Bookshop.
Keele Criminology postgraduate student Nicola Collett discusses her new role as Project Coordinator for the Staffordshire Youth Commission on Police and Crime.
I graduated from Keele University this summer with a first in Geography with Criminology, and decided to stay on at Keele to study for an MA in Criminology and Criminal Justice. As a Keele Criminology undergraduate one of the key things you are taught is never to take things at face value and to think critically about news, reports and statistics concerning ‘crime’. Therefore, when a job opportunity as a project coordinator was advertised through Leaders Unlock for the Staffordshire Youth Commission on Police and Crime I felt it was a great opportunity to continue challenging taken-for-granted assumptions and find out what young people really think about crime and policing in their local area.
The Youth Commission was established by Matthew Ellis, the Police and Crime Commissioner for Staffordshire, as part of a pilot project to engage with young people. During 2016 and 2017 a group of twenty seven young people aged 14–25 will canvass the views of other young people as part of the project. My role involves coordinating stands and workshops in schools, colleges and other institutions in order to help the Commission members to collect the views of 1,500 young people, particularly on what they think the police should be doing. This information will then be fed back to the Commissioner at a conference in April. The aim is to find ways that young people can help to shape the future of policing in Staffordshire and support the development and delivery of the Safer, Fairer, United Communities strategy.
Nicola pictured at her graduation ceremony earlier this year
At its first meeting, members of the Commission collectively decided that a number of key issues needed further consideration. I was pleased to see that issues such as hate crime, Islamophobia, the relationship between police and youths, and the challenges facing people attempting to desist from offending were all selected as topics of interest. These are all issues which I have become interested in as part of my studies. It was also exciting to see so many other Keele students becoming part of the Commission and taking an active involvement in local issues.
The block taught nature of my MA course and the support I am receiving from lecturers between blocks has really helped me to balance my studies with my work. However, as well as enhancing my studies, I also see the Commission as a great chance for young people – who often do not normally have the power to bring about changes – to get their voices heard. This is something which studying Criminology at Keele has shown to me to be particularly important.
In the first of our teaching related posts Dr Guy Woolnough, Teaching Fellow in Criminology, discusses the work he has been doing with second year Keele Criminology students on the module ‘Crime, Culture and Conflict: 1700-1914’.
This week in their tutorials the students on the Crime Culture and Conflict module will be looking at some Victorian convict prison records. It’s the second week of this exercise: on November 8th, they were handling documents from the men’s convict prisons, on November 15th, it’s the female convicts.
Students find the reading a challenge, but once they have got to grips with it, it is very rewarding. The fascination comes from the detail. For example, William Smith got 10 years, but it is not obvious what the crime was. It is recorded as ‘B—–y’, so students had to work out for themselves what the crime was that was so dreadful that it could not be written down. Students further noticed that William was punished for ‘filthy conduct’ and ‘undue familiarity with a prison officer’.
Frederick Brooks served five years for assaulting a senior officer when he was a soldier in India. The students discovered that Fred was suicidal: he was punished for throwing himself from a ferry and into the river and failing to grasp the boat hook proffered by the warder. This unhappy man was in constant trouble. Students were shocked to see that he received 24 lashes, had his mattress and clothing taken away and was shackled for some of his sentence.
Using these primary sources is an innovation on the programme. The students have found that it gives depth to the theoretical analysis of lectures and readings. Foucault makes more sense when you can examine the micro-physics of power in operation upon an individual in a Victorian gaol. The degree of surveillance become apparent when one examines a detailed list of the letters sent and received by a prisoner, when one checks the prisoner’s medical records over a number of years, and can see exactly how much progress he made in the prison school.
Criminologists from Keele took part in a research exchange workshop on the theme of ‘Desistance from Crime’ at the Kuopio Welfare Research Centre, University of Eastern Finland last week. The visit was organised by Mari Suonio, of the Department of Social Work at Kuopio University – herself a former Visiting Research Fellow at Keele University.
Dr Mary Corcoran (Criminology), Dr Kelly Prince (Research Institute for the Social Sciences, Keele) and Dr Gillian Buck (University of Chester) shared findings from their research with academics, probation and prison staff and voluntary sector practitioners. Mary spoke about her ongoing research project on ‘voluntary sector adaptation to criminal justice markets’. England and Wales is now the most privatised criminal justice system in Western Europe, which is exerting deep effects on the ethos, practices and sustainability of voluntary sector organisations. By contrast, Finnish probation and prison services are owned and directed by public statutory and voluntary sector organisations. The work of probation and prisons in Finland is jointly conducted by a single Criminal Sanctions Agency. All employees are trained social workers. Through-the-gate work is very successfully coordinated by prisons, the voluntary sector and local authorities. The Finnish reoffending rate is half that of ours and their prison population has been falling.
Gill, who obtained her PhD at Keele last year, spoke about the research on peer mentoring by ex-offenders. Her findings were that much of the ‘core work’ of mentoring is made up of elementary, under-the-radar support in building ex-offenders’ confidence and self-esteem. Activities such as listening, caring and trust-building are difficult to define as ‘work’, and as a consequence are often overlooked as crucial building blocks towards desistance.
Kelly discussed her work on the emotional labour involved in working with trafficked people. That research was conducted for her doctoral thesis on the role of the voluntary sector in working with people who have been exploited through trafficking. Kelly was an undergraduate and postgraduate student at Keele. Kelly spoke about the ’emotional toll’ experienced by volunteers and staff who work with survivors of trafficking. On the one hand, the problem of burn-out is widely recognised in the voluntary sector, but volunteers and staff are not adequately supported. There are significant hidden costs to ’emotion work’ in the voluntary sector which need to be addressed.
The group were also taken to visit a prison in the region and met with employees of the Criminal Sanctions Agency. They also visited two voluntary sector projects working in housing and employment training for former prisoners.
Andrew Henley, Lecturer in Criminology, was recently appointed to the role of Chair of Trustees for the award-winning charity Unlock. This unique organisation was founded by ex-prisoners in 2000 and works with people with criminal convictions who want to lead positive and law-abiding lives in the future but often face discrimination due to the stigma associated with their criminal records. Whilst this can often relate to accessing insurance, housing or entry onto educational courses, Unlock is currently working on a substantial project titled ‘Fair Access to Employment‘ funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation. This project has included the recent launch of a new website called Recruit! aimed specifically at supporting employers to develop fair and inclusive approaches to job applicants with convictions.
Andrew has been a member of Unlock’s Board since 2013 and prior to this he conducted research for the charity’s Information Hub – an online repository of self-help information for people with convictions. His association with the charity is linked to his research interest in the post-sentence impact of criminal records on people’s life chances. He has recently submitted his PhD which took the form of a critical history of legal rehabilitation in England and Wales. The thesis examined in detail the conception and passage of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 – a piece of legislation which enables certain criminal records to become ‘spent’ after a period of time, meaning that they does not need to be declared for most purposes. However, a large number of occupations are exempt from the protections of this Act and prison sentences over a certain length (currently four years) are not capable of becoming ‘spent’ under the law – a position which Unlock have long been involved in challenging.
On his appointment as Chair, Andrew said: “It is a real honour to be leading the Board of Unlock. With only a small team of staff and volunteers, the charity really does punch above its weight in terms of impact. Each year it helps hundreds of thousands of individuals with information, advice and advocacy and supports them to move forwards positively with their lives. Crucially, because the charity does not receive funding for delivering services on behalf of government, it is able to take a critical stance and challenge unjust policies and practices, effecting real changes of benefit to the 10.5 million people in the UK with a criminal record.”