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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

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:

Understanding how intersectional advantage and disadvantage affects criminal career trajectories in Queensland, Australia: a multilevel approach

Matthews, McVie and collaborators at Queensland University, Australia 

Research questions: 

How does the association between adult conviction trajectories and early youth justice sanction vary by sex and indigenous status?

How does the association between adult conviction trajectories and childhood trauma vary by sex and indigenous status?

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

Inequality is defined as the difference in estimated probability of convictions class membership between non-indigenous men, non-indigenous women, indigenous men and indigenous women.

Approach or method used:

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. 

How have gender and age inequalities in conviction changed over the crime drop in Scotland?

Matthews and Minton (2017) have shown that the crime drop in Scotland is unequally distributed across age and sex, being predominantly driven by lower convictions for young men. We aim to build on this research to examine the roles of demographic change, prevalence (the proportion of the total population who are convicted) and frequency (the average number of convictions for those convicted) on overall conviction rates, identifying whether falling conviction rates are due to fewer people being convicted or the same number people being convicted at a lower rate. This analysis will provide important insights into the potential mechanisms which have led to the crime drop, supplementing existing work in the USA which has focused on young men (Berg et al. 2016) by exploring trends for men and women across the age spectrum. We will also examine how the use of different disposals - imprisonment, community disposals and fines - have changed over the crime drop, and how the use of these disposals have changed for men and women of different ages convicted of different types of crime.

To what extent does gender and poverty impact on the relationship between violence and self-harm?

In 1996, the World Health Organisation (WHO) adopted a resolution which declared violence to be a major and growing public health problem at a global level.  The WHO’s definition of violence includes both interpersonal and self-directed forms of behaviour (including self-injury and suicidal behaviour), the rationale being that these are often products of the same underlying factors. Both violence and self-harming behaviour are common in adolescence; however, few studies have examined whether there are causal connections between them or whether these are comorbid psychosocial disorders that are explained by similar aetiological factors, such as growing up in poverty. Moreover, teenage violence is largely perpetrated by young men, whereas self-harm is most prevalent amongst young women.  So there is little understanding of whether gender inequalities impact on any relationship between the two forms of violence.  

Our other areas of research

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