Our research

The Centre for Criminological Research is a leading research centre for criminology and criminal justice in the UK.


The Centre has strong international links with research centres and criminal justice organisations across the world. It is, for example, the UK lead member for GERN, the Groupe Européen de Recherche sur les Normativités, the key European research network of some 40 university research centres and research institutes.  The Centre supports the European Society of Criminology Early Stage Researchers Working Group and was a founding supporter of this group.

Our projects

Research projects span most areas in criminological and criminal justice research, with people collaborating across disciplines, as well as undertaking excellent research of the highest international quality within disciplines.

Rehabilitating Probation

Gwen Robinson

Rehabilitating Probation: Rebuilding culture, identity and legitimacy in a reformed public service is a three-year (2022-2024) ESRC funded research project that aims to examine the implementation, experiences and consequences of a significant and unprecedented programme of public service reform that has brought formerly outsourced probation services back into the public sector.

A ticking ‘social timebomb?’ An investigation into racial bias in court case outcomes in England and Wales

Angela Sorsby

An ADR UK (Administrative Data Research UK) Research Fellowship funded by the ESRC.

Categorised under: Centre for Criminological Research (CCR)

Bhutan justice project

Mark Brown

Categorised under: Centre for Criminological Research (CCR)

Changing the course of justice for victims and offenders

Professor Joanna Shapland

Almost 20 years ago, in 2001, Professor Joanna Shapland and her research team at the University of Sheffield took on a momentous research project. They were to evaluate three restorative justice schemes involving serious offences in England and Wales and the effect they had on perpetrators’ reoffending and victims’ needs. This research was the first major evaluation of its kind in the world. Two decades later this work has moved further afield and is now changing the way Scotland approaches rehabilitation and justice. 

Courtroom practices in the postcolony

Arushi Garg

This programme of research seeks to understand courtroom practices in Indian trial courts,
focusing specifically on the role and experience of prosecutors, judges and victims.

Categorised under: Centre for Criminological Research (CCR)

Digitalisation and criminal justice

Layla Skinns and Lindsey Rice

Digitalisation and criminal justice is an area of emerging interest for academics in the Centre for Criminological research, who are examining it both empirically and theoretically

Categorised under: Centre for Criminological Research (CCR)

Drugs policing

Matthew Bacon

This research project is concerned with innovation and reform in drugs policing and the interface between law enforcement and public health.

Categorised under: Centre for Criminological Research (CCR)

Gendering police custody 

In 2018, a team of researchers from the Universities of Sheffield, Warwick and Cardiff came together to explore their shared interests in police custody/power/dignity (Dr Layla Skinns); detainee treatment/rights (Prof Jackie Hodgson); gender/ criminal justice (Prof Vanessa Munro), vulnerability/Welsh criminal justice (Dr. Roxanna Dehaghani), police custody/criminal justice statistics (Dr Angela Sorsby); campaigning for women detainee dignity (Katie Kempen/Sherry Ralph, CEO of the Independent Custody Visitors Association (ICVA)).

Categorised under: Centre for Criminological Research (CCR)

'Good' police custody: Influencing policy custody policy and practice

This will be one of the first studies to rigorously examine ‘good’ police custody and to map out changes to police custody arrangements on a national basis.

Categorised under: Centre for Criminological Research (CCR) and Impact on Society

Postcolonial penalities

Mark Brown

Categorised under: Centre for Criminological Research (CCR)

Private military veterans

Adam White

This project explores the life-course of the private military veteran – a new category
of veteran whose origins lie in the post-9/11 War on Terror.

Categorised under: Centre for Criminological Research (CCR)

War in peacetime: Investigating urban violence and social trauma

The main aim of this project is to examine life in cities experiencing high levels of violence in non-war contexts with investigations in both high and low violent crime cities in Europe, the US, and Latin America.

Categorised under: Centre for Criminological Research (CCR)

Information on our upcoming projects will be added shortly.

Project Archive

Policing drugs in a rapidly changing environment: Challenges, innovation and reform (2018-20) (BA/Leverhulme Small Research Grant)

Research by Matthew Bacon.

Globally, countries are adopting policies that favour public health strategies over a strictly penal approach to drug problems. In the UK, however, where use remains relatively high, drug-related deaths are at record levels, and budget cuts have had a detrimental effect on existing services, the Government persists with prohibition enforced through punitive interventions and has failed to introduce promising new measures. 

This research explores an interesting reform dynamic that is playing out in the policing of drugs. In the absence of policy reform at a national level, a number of police forces and police and crime commissioners (PCCs) have started exercising their discretionary authority and experimenting with innovative approaches that constitute a shift away from traditional enforcement interventions towards a focus on harm reduction.

What is justice? Re-imagining penal policy 

The Howard League for Penal Reform is committed to developing an effective penal system which creates fewer victims of crime, has a diminished role for prison and creates a safer community for all. Through What is justice? Re-imagining penal policy we are seeking to develop innovative, credible and challenging ideas that build into models to change penal practice and outcomes. It will be charged with generating the climate and the intellectual debate that can act as the springboard to contest the conventional role of the penal system and ultimately promote a new, achievable paradigm that will deliver a reduced role for the penal system while maintaining public confidence, fewer victims of crime and safer communities. The challenge will be to develop an agenda for change that counters the current mores of penal populism.

Hub 1: Local justice and participation
This hub is led by Professor Stephen Farrall who is the Director of the Centre for Criminological Research (CCR) who is working with members of CCR.

The hub will generate new thinking, discussion and ideas for policy and practice around the issues of how people (including those who have broken the law or been victims of crime) relate to the state and participate in deliberation about safety and justice.

The hub will focus on three overarching issues:

1. How people relate to the state
2. How much involvement do people want in decision-making processes in the criminal justice system?
3. The lived reality of citizenship during and following involvement in the criminal justice system

 Devolving Probation Services

Project duration: March 2014 to November 2015
Funding awarded by the ESRC

Project funding
ESRC LogoDr Gwen Robinson's project 'Devolving Probation Services: An ethnographic study of the implementation of the Transforming Rehabilitation agenda', was conducted jointly with researchers at Liverpool John Moores University. The project was supported under the ESRC's pilot Urgency Grants Mechanism, which enables researchers to pursue an opportunity to conduct research in relation to an unexpected event – an opportunity which would be lost if the application went through the usual ESRC process. This project explored the impacts on probation staff of the changes resulting from the devolution of probation services, a development which was announced by the government in autumn 2013 and implemented in spring 2014.

Project outline
The Probation Service in England & Wales existed for more than 100 years as a public body, playing a key role in the criminal justice system. The public sector Probation Service was responsible for supervising offenders subject to community-based sentences as well as large numbers of offenders who are subject to mandatory supervision at the end of a prison sentence. In 2013 the Probation Service supervised approximately 220,000 offenders in the community and employed more than 16,000 staff. In 2013 the Ministry of Justice announced plans to implement a policy which would see approximately 70% of the work carried out by the public Probation Service being outsourced to other providers, including private sector companies.

The first stage in the process involved the creation of 21 'Community Rehabilitation Companies' (from 1 June 2014) which would be owned by the Ministry of Justice for a period of several months, prior to being offered for sale to a variety of potential providers, including private companies.

This project set out to examine this significant development in one part of the country, providing a case study of the 'devolution' of the majority of probation services. It looked in detail, in one metropolitan area, at the process and implications of moving the bulk of probation work (and staff) from the public Probation Service to a Community Rehabilitation Company with an uncertain future. The project sought to understand this process from a variety of perspectives, including those of senior managers involved in running the Company and probation workers engaged in supervising offenders. The researchers attended and observed management meetings, collected and analysed policy documents and conducted interviews with staff at all levels within the organisation. The research provides a detailed picture of a significant development in the criminal justice system and, more broadly, the process of 'outsourcing' a public service.

Project outputs
Robinson, G., Burke, L. & Millings, M. (2017) ‘Probation, privatisation and legitimacy’, Howard Journal of Criminal Justice, 56, 2: 137-157.

Burke, L., Millings, M. & Robinson, G. (2017) ‘Is constructive practice still possible in a competitive environment? Findings from a case study of a Community Rehabilitation Company in England and Wales’, in P. Ugwudike, P. Raynor & J. Annison (eds.) Evidence-Based Skills in Criminal Justice: International Research on Supporting Rehabilitation and Desistance. Bristol: Policy Press.

Burke, L., Millings, M. & Robinson, G. (2017) ‘Probation migration(s): Examining occupational culture in a turbulent field’, Criminology and Criminal Justice, 17, 2: 192-208.

Robinson, G., Burke, L. & Millings, M. (2016) ‘Criminal Justice Identities in Transition; the case of devolved probation services in England & Wales’, British Journal of Criminology, 56, 1: 161-78.

Robinson, G. (2016) ‘Patrolling the borders of risk: the new bifurcation of probation services in England & Wales’, in M. Bosworth, C. Hoyle & L. Zedner (eds.) Changing Contours of Criminal Justice: Research, Politics and Policy. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Changing Practitioner and Policy Approaches to the Supervision of Offenders in the Community

Research Lead - Joanna Shapland

This research was comprised of 3 projects:

First Project:

The quality of engagement in probation practice (with Tony Bottoms, Stephen Farrall, Fergus McNeill (Glasgow University), Camilla Priede and Gwen Robinson) 

Project duration: July 2010 to June 2012
Funding awarded by the National Offender Management Service

This research was split into three further projects: developing ideas about probation staff views on the quality of probation supervision; a literature review; and observations of practice. The literature review has been completed and presented to NOMS, and has been published by the Ministry of Justice and the University of Sheffield in 2011. Two journal articles have been published on quality in probation supervision and more are in preparation.

Second project:

Evaluating SEED (Skills for Effective Engagement Development Project) training on one-to-one probation supervision (with Stephen Farrall, Fergus McNeill (Glasgow University), Gwen Robinson and Angela Sorsby)

Project duration: February 2011 to December 2013
Funding awarded by the National Offender Management Service

The research includes observation of training sessions and questionnaires for attending practitioners, questionnaires to service users and in-depth interviews with a smaller sample, and analysis of compliance data. NOMS has published a summary of the staff views, and a book chapter gives further details. Further publications are in progress, and analysis of the observational data on probation supervision sessions is ongoing. In 2019 it was decided to roll out SEED to train probation staff in the National Probation Service, and Joanna Shapland was asked to provide video content to accompany the programme.

Third project:

STREAM: Strategic Targeting of Recidivism Through Evaluation and Monitoring (with NOMS, Angela Sorsby, and partners in Romania and the Netherlands)

Project duration: December 2012 to October 2014
Funding awarded by the EU Commission Directorate-General Justice

The project involves three workstreams, one of which is looking at the implementation of SEED in Romania and making a comparison with its evaluation in England. SEED is a training programme for probation staff that takes place over a one year period, and includes professional development. The evaluation of that implementation falls to us, directing university partners in Romania, and using our instruments. The interim report from the project is on its website, as is the presentation to the final conference in Malta. Publications are in progress.

Project outputs

Sorsby, A., Shapland, J. and Durnescu, I (2018).  ‘Promoting quality in probation supervision and policy transfer: evaluating the SEED programme in Romania and England’, in P. Ugwidike, P. Raynor and J. Annison (eds)  Evidence-based skills in criminal justice: international research on supporting rehabilitation and desistance.  Bristol: Policy Press, pp. 193-216.

Shapland, J., Sorsby, A., Farrall, S. and Priede, C. (2017)  ‘Experiencing supervision in England – on licence and on community sentences’, in R. Armstrong and I. Durnescu (eds)  Parole and beyond: international perspectives of life on parole.  London: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 19-48.

Sorsby, A., Shapland, J. and Robinson, G. (2016)  ‘Using compliance with probation supervision as an interim outcome measure in evaluating a probation initiative’, Criminology and Criminal Justice, vol. 17, no. 1, pp. 40-61, DOI: 10.1177/1748895816653992

Sorsby, A., Shapland, J. and Durnescu, I. (2014)  External evaluation of the Skills for Effective Engagement and Development (SEED) project in Romania, at http://www.stream-probation.eu/uploaded_files/SEEDS%20Study%20Fianl%20Report.pdf

Sorsby, A., Shapland, J., Farrall, S., McNeill, F., Priede, C. and Robinson, G. (2013)  Probation staff views of the Skills for Effective Engagement Development (SEED) project.  National Offender Management Service Analytical Summary, at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/analytical-summary-probation-staff-views-of-the-skills-for-effective-engagement-development-seed-pilot

Sorsby, A., Shapland, J., Farrall, S., McNeill, F., Priede, C. and Robinson, G. (2013)  Probation staff views of the Skills for Effective Engagement Development (SEED) project.  Sheffield, Centre for Criminological Research Occasional Paper no. 4.  Sheffield: University of Sheffield, at https://www.sheffield.ac.uk/polopoly_fs/1.293093!/file/probation-staff-views-seed.pdf (47pp)

Robinson, G., Priede, C., Farrall, S., Shapland, J. and McNeill, F. (2013) ‘Understanding “quality” in probation practice: frontline perspectives in England & Wales’, Criminology and Criminal Justice, DOI 10.1177/1748895813483763, published in print 2014 vol. 14(2), pp. 123-142.

Robinson, G., Priede, C., Farrall, S., Shapland, J. and McNeill, F. (2012)  ‘Doing “strengths-based” research: Appreciative Inquiry in a probation setting’, Criminology and Criminal Justice, DOI 10.1177/1748895812445621, published in print 2013, vol. 13(1), pp. 3-20.

Shapland, J., Bottoms, A., Farrall, S., McNeill, F., Priede, C. and Robinson, G. (2012)  The quality of probation supervision – A literature review: summary of key messages.  Ministry of Justice Research Summary 2/12.  London: Ministry of Justice, at http://www.justice.gov.uk/downloads/publications/research-and-analysis/moj-research/quality-of-probation-supervision.pdf

Shapland, J., Bottoms, A., Farrall, S., McNeill, F., Priede, C. and Robinson, G. (2012)  The quality of probation supervision – A literature review.  Sheffield: Centre for Criminological Research Occasional Paper no. 3.  Sheffield: University of Sheffield, at http://www.shef.ac.uk/polopoly_fs/1.159010!/file/QualityofProbationSupervision.pdf (55pp)

Flagship institutes

The University’s four flagship institutes bring together our key strengths to tackle global issues, turning interdisciplinary and translational research into real-world solutions.