Keele Criminologist to research the impact of loss and bereavement on young prisoners

It is increasingly recognised that a significant proportion of young people involved in the criminal justice system have suffered significant loss through bereavement. However, despite its significance, loss and bereavement needs have not been accommodated sufficiently in existing practices and guidelines before and after the prison stage of the criminal process.  To investigate these issues, Keele criminologist Dr Mary Corcoran will be working with a multi-disciplinary research group on a research project funded by the Barrow-Cadbury Trust.

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The research group involves colleagues with expertise in healthcare, law and medical ethics and their collaborative project will integrate and unite criminal justice practitioners, voluntary, statutory and academic institutions to address the gap in support needs around loss and bereavement of young adults in custody and the community.

Mary has explained that the research is intended to help in a number of practical ways:

Firstly, we hope that the outcomes of this project will make a significant difference to young adults who are bereaved and who are currently not offered the structured and sufficient support they need, unless they are in prison.

The results will also help to put the issue of the bereavement needs of young adults in the criminal justice system at the forefront of practitioners’ thinking. We believe that such recognition will speak to practitioners’ experiences.

We will be devising tools that will provide them with a structured and accessible framework to support bereaved young adults before and during the resettlement phase of their sentence, and even to divert them from the custody system.

In the longer term, the research has the potential to influence policy makers within an agenda of promoting offenders’ health and well-being.



Two members of the Criminology Programme team will be presenting at the annual Law Enforcement and Public Health conference in Amsterdam this Autumn. Dr Sam Weston will present her ongoing research on police approaches to people with mental health issues, whilst Dr Helen Wells will speak about her contribution to a four-year European grant-funded project on the use of penalties in child health contexts.

Dr Weston’s paper is titled ‘Police approaches and management of situations involving persons with mental ill health’ and is based on research funded by the College of Policing focusing on the need to develop effective mechanisms for knowledge exchange, development and implementation at every level within and between police forces and partner agencies. Drawing on data collected from a Knowledge Exchange Group and one-to-one semi-structured interviews with police officers and partner agencies, the paper aims to explore the ways that the police approach and manage incidents where people exhibit signs of mental ill health. Additionally the training needs of police officers, to ensure that vulnerable people receive appropriate care, are identified and refined.


Dr Wells’ paper is titled ‘When persuasion fails: the use and implications of direct and indirect sanctions for ‘bad’ health choices within healthcare systems’ and is based on her research on the European Grant Funded MOCHA (Models of Child Health Appraised) project. The project, which received 7 million Euro from the Horizon 2020 funding steam, involves 19 scientific partners from 10 European countries, plus Switzerland, the United States and Australia; as well as country agents in 30 European Commission and European Economic Area countries, and seeks to identify optimal models of children’s primary health care.

The paper aims to explore the increasing use of direct and indirect sanctions for patients/their families who make health choices that are seen to be undesirable in terms of their own and the wider population’s health. It will draw on data collected over the summer of 2016 and reflects on a stream of work within that project that explores the use of incentives and, the aspect of particular interest here, penalties in health contexts. In that respect it looks at the use of law and law enforcement methodologies and rationales to secure desirable public health outcomes (rather than, for example, the use of recognised public policing approaches to minimising the immediate risk that might be posed by someone with threatening health issues).

Rather than see public health as a form of crime prevention, the paper will explore case studies from across Europe (and beyond) where patients/their families are involved in adverse outcome encounters (penalised, or denied incentives) with healthcare systems for making the ‘wrong’ public health decisions. In that sense, it engages with situations where public health requirements create rather than prevent ‘crimes’, by favouring sanctions as the method of promoting preferred choices. Examples will include mandatory vaccination programmes and their enforcement and the withholding of services from children who have not been engaged with screening programmes.

Whilst the sanctioning of ‘incorrect’ health decisions is relatively new, the paper will also draw on other contexts where penalties are increasingly being attached to (what are being constructed as) ‘bad’ decisions, and on the wider lessons from criminology about the consequences of responding to individuals in this way.

Road safety education: how important is emotion?

by Leanne Savigar, PhD student in Criminology

 To what extent would the presentation of a road safety statistic influence your driver behaviour? Would the ability to recognise speed limits from your surroundings stop you speeding? Would confessing your offender behaviour ensure that you never offended again?

For a number of national driver awareness courses, it is expected that the presentation of such information and discussion of your offence with an independent professional and other individuals who have been caught committing an offence is able to engender some form of attitudinal and behavioural change.

For a vast array of traffic offences ranging from speeding to using a mobile phone while driving the National Driver Offender Retraining Scheme (NDORS) provides education as an alternative to prosecution. Individuals committing an offence may be offered this alternative providing that the criteria for attendance are met.

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Perceptions of these courses have been varied, with some drivers finding the content useful as a reminder of the rules and regulations of the road, but other articles and blog posts describing personal experiences of such courses being less beneficial. The National Speed Awareness Course, or NSAC, was described by Polly Hudson as ‘My Speed Awareness Hell’ and an article written by Dave Jenkins ended with a ‘Speed Awareness Course bingo’ that was said to be needed in order to maintain concentration levels.

Despite these often critical statements, research conducted regarding the NSAC suggested that the course has many benefits to driver attitudes and behaviour. 99% of drivers involved in the final stage of the evaluation conducted by Brainbox Research on behalf of the Association of Chief Police Officers stated that they had changed their behaviour following attendance at the course. This is a considerable benefit that the course appears to provide. However, there is little information given regarding the behaviour that has changed following the course, and whether that behaviour change resulted in less offending or simply allowed drivers to better avoid getting caught.

Indeed, in a report on his attendance at the national What’s Driving Us? course, Danny Shaw stated that he learnt how to avoid being caught above and beyond any other learning process that was expected to take place. In his report of the course that is offered as an alternative to prosecution for offences such as using a mobile phone while driving or running a red light, Danny highlights a number of interesting points to be made regarding the use of such driver awareness courses. In particular, he questioned the material provided in an attempt to encourage behaviour change and asks why videos of incidents and real life stories of individuals impacted by such behaviour were not presented. Alongside this he identified the lack of research that has been conducted regarding such driver awareness courses.

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Our knowledge of the success of driver awareness courses does remain limited, with only a small number of evaluations assessing the impact of the NSAC and no formal evaluation yet conducted of the What’s Driving Us? course. With over 1.4 million people attending one of seven NDORS driver awareness courses in 2015, and the number of people attending a What’s Driving Us? course at almost 125,000 after only four years of its introduction, we should be able to say more about the effectiveness of such courses.

As so many people are being caught and experiencing education as an alternative to prosecution it is vital that they are experiencing a form of education that is most likely to impact upon their road user attitudes and behaviour. In order to do this research must be conducted to recognise the most successful aspects of road safety education and amendments must be made to current driver awareness courses that are failing to provide significant benefits to driver attitudes and behaviour, and most importantly to their offender behaviour.

In terms of the lack of graphic, real-life content of driver awareness courses, there is one course that is provided in the UK that does deliver exactly this. Crash Course, offered by Staffordshire Police for those caught in Staffordshire not wearing a seatbelt or using a mobile phone while driving, is an emotional and hard-hitting style of driver awareness course. It differs from the nationally run courses in its provision of video footage from those involved in incidents and the discussion of personal, real-life stories from the presenters who have themselves, in some way, been involved in an incident resulting in death or serious injury. Statistics and information regarding the offence are given, although the accompanying images, videos and stories provide a level of emotional impact that cannot be obtained through the use of statistics alone.

Research currently being conducted by myself explores the use of such emotional education as an alternative to prosecution and situates it within a wider understanding of traffic offending and responses to that offending. Within the final stages of the project, I am currently analysing a wealth of data that has been collected regarding various aspects of these processes.

The research project looks at the use of education as an alternative to prosecution, with a particular focus on mobile phone use while driving as little research has been conducted in this area. Data have been collected through various methods and from a number of different perspectives in an attempt to provide a comprehensive understanding of the topic.

Questionnaires completed by individuals before attending a driver awareness course, immediately after and again 6 months later have been complemented with interview data exploring their experience of being caught committing an offence, attending a driver awareness course and subsequent road user attitudes and behaviour.

Alongside this, policing professionals have been interviewed regarding their own experiences of understanding legislation based on changing technology, identifying offenders and offering education as an alternative to prosecution.

Observations of the driver awareness course itself and interviews with presenters of the course allow for an understanding of the emotive nature of the course that differs from the national ‘What’s Driving Us?’ course, referred to in the article by Danny Shaw, that individuals may be offered if caught committing the offence elsewhere in the UK.

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Initial preliminary analyses of this appear to show considerable benefits to driver attitudes and behaviour following attendance at the course. The most frequently mentioned memorable and impactful aspect of the course is the discussion of real-life personal experiences, that which differentiates Crash Course from the nationally offered courses. After attending Crash Course, 98% of offenders agreed that the use of real-life stories was effective. Preliminary analyses of follow-up data collected six months after attending the course appear to show reductions in the attitudinal and behavioural benefits of the course, but not reaching the level observed prior to course attendance. Further analysis is needed to assess the success of the course in providing attitudinal and behavioural change, however, if this provision of emotion-filled presentation of information is that which is able to encourage the most attitudinal and behavioural change then the implications of this must be considered further. NDORS courses run throughout the UK may be able to learn from such a course, and vice versa should additional research also be published regarding their success.

It is certainly true that not enough research has actually been conducted in the area and much more is needed to ensure that what is being offered is provided in the most effective format possible. As so many people are evidently being caught and experiencing education as an alternative to prosecution it is vital that they are experiencing a form of education that is most likely to impact upon their road user attitudes and behaviour. The research that I am currently conducting attempts to explore this issue and provide some understanding of the impact of such education, although this must be complemented with additional research in the field. I will be attending an International Conference on Traffic and Transport Psychology in Brisbane in early August to present some of the details and findings from my research at an international level.

Congratulations to our new doctors!

Dr Gill Buck, Dr Ian Mahoney and Dr Emma Murray recently followed in a long tradition of postgraduate research in Criminology at Keele with the award of their PhDs.   We offer our warmest congratulations to our new doctors and to all of the academics who supervised their projects.

Gill’s thesis was entitled ‘Peer mentoring and the role of the voluntary sector in [re]producing ‘desistance’: identity, agency, values, change and power’.  It was supervised by Dr Mary Corcoran and Professor Ronnie Lippens.  Prior to this project, and despite much enthusiasm for the practice of peer mentoring by ex-offenders, it had received very little empirical scrutiny. Gill’s thesis examined the micro dynamics and intimate interactions within these relationships. In doing so it highlighted how mentors are often much more than functional additions to existing criminal justice systems. They are also presented as teachers, co-operators and critical agents. The narratives in this study highlight how dominant forms of knowledge often minimise or miss the lived experiences of crime and change. In contrast, peer mentors place lived experiences at the centre of their approach and in doing so they critically question exclusionary practices and re-humanise themselves and their peers.

Gill’s data were obtained from qualitative interviews with twenty peer mentors, eighteen peer mentees, four service coordinators and two Probation officers, who were drawn from a range of voluntary sector providers in the North of England. Observations of practice were also carried out, including: volunteer recruitment processes; training courses; and formal supervision sessions. Mentors were also observed facilitating group work with their peers. The analysis of the data drew upon techniques of thematic analysis and critical discourse analysis focusing upon how mentoring was described, performed and justified by participants. As a result of this analysis five overarching themes emerged from the research. These are: identity, agency, values, change and power.

Gill is now a Senior Lecturer in Social Work at the University of Chester.


Dr Gill Buck (left), Dr Ian Mahoney (centre) and Dr Emma Murray (right)

Ian’s thesis, ‘Graftin’ up ‘anley duck: Narrating the influence of unemployment upon identity and crime in Stoke-on-Trent’ was supervised by Dr Tony Kearon and Professor Ronnie Lippens.  The research set out to explore the influences of unemployment upon senses of identity and involvement in crime in Stoke-on-Trent. It drew upon the Free Association Interview method to explore the lives and experiences of a group of men living in some of the most deprived parts of the city between 2010 and 2014. Ian looked at experiences of unemployment, underemployment and insecure employment upon the lives and narratives of these men and their perceptions of the world around them. He aimed to understand the effect of their experiences and how they have come to reconcile their position in society.

Ian’s thesis outlined how people construct and maintain an identity which makes sense to them in the face of the significant challenges posed by the deindustrialisation and prolonged decline of the city of Stoke-on-Trent. It revealed how their evolving sense of self is influenced by the communities in which they live, whether that is an urban, social housing estate, a hostel or on the streets. The thesis challenges existing hegemonic depictions of what it is to be part of the homogenously branded ‘socially excluded’ and the manner in which senses of social order which, although they may not be seen as ‘normal’ or acceptable to wider society, are formed. Ian argued that the people deemed socially excluded are active and engaged actors seeking to find senses of security, belonging and unity in an increasingly atomised, insecure and fragmented world.

Ian is now a Lecturer in Criminology at Liverpool Hope University.

Emma’s thesis, supervised by Professor Bill Dixon (now at Nottingham University) and Dr Barry Ryan (SPIRE) was entitled ‘Reimagining the Veteran: An investigation into Violent Veterans in England and Wales post 9/11’. Emma’s thesis provided an original investigation into the status of violent veterans in the United Kingdom post 9/11. Drawing upon a series of interviews conducted during 2011-2014, it framed the problem through the focused lens of Veteranality. Veteranality is understood here to be the regulation and rehabilitation of veteran offenders within the criminal justice framework, with a conscious attempt to understand the limitations of governing regimes by foregrounding questions of political agency.

Emma looked directly at the tensions and conflicts veteran offenders experience as they move from a war paradigm to one of criminal justice on domestic soil. Central to this was the ethical decision to “give voice” to the veterans by allowing them to narrate their own experiences prior, during and after war, which proved crucial to the study. As violent veterans exposed the limits of juridical approaches to their crimes, so they added further empirical weight to the claims that times of war and peace are less easily demarcated and set apart. Embodying the normalisation of violence in new security terrains, their testimonies presented significant challenges and demand a thorough rethinking of the violence of warfare in the 21st Century.

Emma is a Senior Lecturer in Criminal Justice at Liverpool John Moores University.