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Criminal with handcuffs behind back

Certain social groups are over-represented in the criminal justice system.  This includes minority ethnic groups, younger people and men.  This over-representation is partly a result of differences in offending behaviour and partly a result of systemic effects which act to select some people into the justice system more than others.  Our research will examine the extent to which there are inequalities in justice system contact as a result of age, sex and socio-economic status, as well as other factors. We will also examine the extent to which social change has impacted on the relationship between justice inequalities and individual outcomes.   

Our current active research projects on justice inequalities are listed below (these link closely with our research on Crime, Socio-Economic, Age and Gender inequalities).

Research Papers

Fuel tax hikes to reduce emissions will significantly increase regional inequality in UK


  • An obvious way to reduce the emission of greenhouse gasses is to increase fuel taxes as a way of discouraging diesel and petrol consumption.


  • Change in spatial flows of internal trade as a result of raising the cost of fuel have measurable energy justice implications: peripheral regions of the economy, in rural and coastal areas and many city outskirts are most vulnerable, as are petrochemical, agricultural and connected sectors.
  • Given that the UK is already one of the most regionally unequal countries in Europe, the effect of further exacerbating regional inequality is a significant and important finding that has major implications for energy policy, not only for the UK but potentially also for developed countries around the world.

Policy implications:

Stop and search reform in Scotland: A study of effectiveness and equity


Stop and search, and its impact on crime and communities is one of the most contentious aspects of policing activity worldwide. In 2015, following a major review, the Scottish Parliament passed legislation to regulate the use of stop and search in Scotland, and introduce a new Code of Practice. In practice, the reform ended the widespread use of non-statutory stop and search and put the tactic on an exclusively statutory basis. While aimed at improving proportionality and fairness, the shift to a legalistic model also prompted concerns that falling rates of stop and search would result in a rise in crime, especially violence. This paper examines the consequences of shifting from a deterrent model to a more legalistic model of stop and search. It does so by examining the effectiveness of stop and search as a measure to prevent crime and the degree to which it is used equally across communities with different levels of crime and deprivation. 

Types of inequalities

Communities, crime, justice, policing

Police use of the new Covid-19 powers: Using administrative data to analyse and evaluate practice

Photo showing the torsos of two police officers in yellow high visibility uniforms

McVie and fellow collaborators at the Scottish Centre for Administrative Data Research (SCADR)

Research questions: 

The report scrutinises Police Scotland's use of temporary new powers of enforcement introduced to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic and asks the following questions:

  • Are the temporary powers being used appropriately, with enforcement being used only as a last resort?
  • What is the public's perception of the police use of these temporary powers?

Type(s) of inequality and how inequality is defined:

Differences in the use of the powers in terms of absolute numbers and rates per capita.

Approach or method used:

From childhood system intervention to adult criminal conviction: Investigating sex and Indigenous status inequalities in Queensland administrative data

Matthews, McVie and collaborators at Queensland University, Australia 

It is well known that youth justice intervention is associated with a criminal conviction in adulthood.  What is less well known is whether “cross-over” children, who have contact with both child welfare and youth justice systems, experience relatively worse outcomes and, if so, whether these outcomes are exacerbated by important demographic factors, such as sex and Indigenous status.  Criminal careers scholars have examined the existence and patterning of adult convictions for different groups, but attempts to understand inequality of outcome have been constrained by limitations of standard statistical analysis.  Using administrative data from the Queensland Cross-sector Research Collaboration, we adopt a novel regression model specification more commonly used in epidemiology to explore the cumulative effects of childhood system contact on adult conviction trajectories, and how these associations vary by sex and Indigenous status.

Testing the relationship between changing patterns of crime and stop and search in Scotland: the impact of the introduction of a new Code of Practice

Jahanshahi and McVie

Recent changes to stop and search legislation, policy and practice in Scotland has significantly reduced the use of the tactic.  In a wider context of rising violence in the UK, this has raised questions over the extent to which the reduction in stop and search has impacted on crime rates, and especially violence. 

This paper addresses the following research questions:

·         What is the relationship between rates of stop and search and patterns of crime in Scotland?

·         Has the introduction of a new code of practice on 11th May 2017 caused a ‘shock’ in terms of this relationship?

·         Does this relationship vary according to type of search power used and type of crime studied?

·         Is there any variation in the relationship between stop and search and crime rates across Police Divisions?  And is this contingent on level of deprivation  across divisional areas?

Type(s) of inequality and how inequality is defined:

The changing profile of crime victims in Scotland: Has the crime drop resulted in greater concentration of inequalities?

McVie, Norris, Pillinger and Skott.

Building on previous work (McVie, Norris and Pillinger, 2019) this analysis aims to explore the factors that have influenced growing inequality in the experience of victimisation over the period of the crime drop in Scotland.  Key research questions are:

·         To what extent has the crime drop resulted in a widening gap in risk of exposure to victimisation (based on frequency and type of crime)?

·         What factors explain this widening gap in the risk of exposure to victimisation?

·         To what extent could any widening inequality be a result of economic stress (potentially as a result of the financial crash) as opposed to other social characteristics of the Scottish population?

Type(s) of inequality and how inequality is defined

We focus principally on the issue of inequality in exposure to crime victimisation.  In doing so, we take account of differences according to age, sex, socio-economic status, economic stress, educational level and health conditions.

Problem behaviour in children: policy, politics and social inequality in Scotland

This paper explores the impact of socio-economic and other inequalities on the risk of conduct disorder among a cohort of children aged 10 years in Scotland. Broadly defined, children with conduct disorder have a difficult time following rules and behaving in a socially acceptable way. In the UK, early onset conduct disorder is the main reason for referral to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services. While there is an extensive literature on childhood conduct disorders, most research to date has focused on individual and family level factors, for example, child personality traits, family background and dysfunction, parenting styles and more recently, the impact of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). A similar focus is reflected within policy, whereby the main emphasis is on parenting classes and child psychological therapies. For example, the Scottish Government Mental Health Strategy 2017-2027 aims to have completed a national roll-out of targeted parenting programmes for three and four-year olds with conduct disorder by 2019-2020.

Place and punishment in Scotland: stability and change in the relationship between deprivation and imprisonment

Recent scholarship in the USA (Simes 2017) has identified the spatial context of imprisonment as an important issue.  Whilst criminologists have typically seen imprisonment as a response to urban inequality or urban social control, Simes has shown that imprisonment rates can also be high away from urban centres in smaller 'satellite' cities.
Using 2003 data for Scotland, Houchin (2005) identified Glasgow as an important site of both high deprivation and imprisonment, but since the early 2000s cities such as Glasgow have seen a 'sub-urbanization' of poverty (Minton and Bailey 2018), with increasing levels of deprivation away from city centres and towards the suburbs. This raises the question of whether the spatial relationship between imprisonment and deprivation in Scotland has also changed over this period. We aim to revisit and extend Houchin's analysis to explore change in the spatial context of imprisonment in Scotland. 

A crime drop for whom? Changing inequality in the profile of victims in Scotland from 2008-09 to 2017-18

Crime has fallen substantially over the last 30 or so year, in Scotland and elsewhere. One of the main questions raised by the ‘crime drop’ is whether all groups in society have benefited, or whether some groups have seen larger reductions in crime than others. We make explicit the distinction between two different types of victimization inequality measure which have previously been used to study changing victimization inequality over the course of the crime drop - what we term adjusted and unadjusted measures. We argue that these two measures relate to conceptually distinct quantities of interest which can inform different types of policy response to changing victimization inequality, informing victimization prevention and victim support services respectively. We empirically analyse the change in victimization inequality in Scotland between 2008 and 2017 using these two types of victimization inequality measure, considering a range of socio-demographic factors.

The impact of structural, systemic and social inequalities in childhood on adolescent offending and early adult criminal conviction


The factors that determine young people’s involvement in offending and youth justice are multiple and complex, which makes it difficult to know what type of policy response is likely to be most effective.  Scotland has prioritised policies aimed at reducing child poverty, improving trauma informed practice and minimising the impact of formal system contact amongst those who get involved in offending.  But which is most likely to be effective and for what?  This paper examines data from the Edinburgh Study of Youth Transitions and Crime to explore the relationship between early childhood experiences, offending in adolescence and criminal conviction in early adulthood.

Types of inequalities

Poverty, Adverse Childhood Experiences, Formal System Contact, Gender


This research involves the use of latent class growth analysis (LCGA) and multinomial regression modelling.

Our other areas of research

Illustration of the coronavirus in red on a black background


Mother and son holding hands


Car window smashed by car thief


People with hands raised in lecture


Workers in an open plan office


Industrial Chimneys with smoke raising


Students chatting in the library


chalk drawing of male and female on balance scales


New houses being built in a new development


Dad with two children walking hand in hand to the bus stop


Block of high rise flats


Sad boy sitting on a bark bench