Law court - criminal justice research

Injustice and Harm

Criminal Justice research

Injustice and Harm: Reforming and reconceptualising

The Injustice and Harm stream seeks to provide insight into the harms of contemporary criminal justice, political and socio-cultural processes. This strand of research reconceptualises the nature of harm in society, turning attention from normative notions of the harmful and harmless and instead identifying those who are victimised by social structures, policies and practices. Much of this work calls for the overhaul of existing frameworks of governance, arguing that until reform takes place injustice and harm will continue unabated. Recent work within this stream includes:

  • Criminal law and criminal justice
  • Drug prohibition 
  • Political violence
  • Professional sports
  • Sexual violence and the night-time economy
  • Victimology

Find out more about some of these projects

Conflict Legacies in Northern Ireland

Dr Donna Halliday recently conducted an interdisciplinary (psychology, politics and sociology) study investigating the legacy of conflict on young people in Northern Ireland. Focusing on the experiences of young people within the Protestant, Unionist and Loyalist (PUL) community of East Belfast, the research sought to understand how the young experience, negotiate and make sense of growing up within a community affected by the legacy of political violence. Using a framework of interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA) the research allowed the opportunity to examine the experiences of young people living within inner-city communities in Belfast, as well as exploring the complex issues they encounter. The research incorporated focus groups and semi-structured interviews with both young people and youth and community workers from the East Belfast area.

The research results highlighted unresolved issues directly connected to the legacy of the troubles, such as the continuing presence of paramilitaries, sectarian violence, ongoing issues with cultural difference and division, and the indirect effects of conflict and trauma on young people’s mental health and well being. However, the key finding from the research was the role of post-memory amongst young people, as well as the existence of intergenerational trauma and secondary victimisation amongst the post '98 generation. This suggested that communal and familial memories of past trauma were being passed down the generations and reconstructing collective memories of conflict in post-conflict youth. The deep and personalised nature of these ‘post-memories’ entrenched past trauma and had the potential to maintain resentment and hostility, passing on an ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality across generations. This could explain why some young people with no direct conflict experiences continue to still be affected indirectly by the conflict. This could also have important implications for understanding why some young people romanticise the past, aspire to join paramilitary groups and the routes into political violence taken by young people and the future of peace in Northern Ireland.

As Dr Halliday notes – while Northern Ireland has been considered to be officially in a state of peace for some years with the Good Friday Agreement now in its 21st year, problems still persist as current issues with the power-sharing executive demonstrate. Unresolved issues around identity, the legacy of the conflict and dealing with past remain. As such, incidences of political violence still make headlines with young people often being at the forefront of these exchanges, giving rise for concern that the post '98 generation are still drawn into pathways of political violence. It is clear that how we remember the past and deal with the legacy of violence has important ramifications not, just for the generation who lived it but also for future generations – something that still needs to be addressed. 

To read more about Dr Halliday’s research, take a look at her article for the Irish Political Studies journal.

Criminal Law and Criminal Justice

Noel Cross’ latest book Criminal Law for Criminologists maintains the author's interest in public criminology, and offers an accessible introduction to the principles of criminal law that are situated firmly in the context of social harm and social justice. In doing so, the book provides a captivating insight into the relationship between criminal law (the ‘law in the books’) and criminal justice (the ‘law in action’) in England. In particular it focuses on how criminal law and criminal justice often speak different languages, despite the fact that each depends on the other’s existence in order to function day-to-day as social institutions. Such an approach contrasts with the mainstream approach to writing about criminal law and criminal justice, which largely focuses on discussing one institution without discussing the other.

Noel’s research is focused on encouraging the wider public to consider the policy and practice of the criminal law and criminal justice side-by-side, as mechanisms for promoting order in society. He aims to encourage academic and public readers to recognise how the ambitions of both social institutions can overlap and conflict, and to reflect critically on the limitations of both as tools for reducing social harm. These limitations have been highlighted by the recent academic developments in the field of zemiology, which influence the book's exploration of the limits of what criminal law and criminal justice should aim to achieve. 

Find out more about Criminal Law for Criminologists.

Independent Drug Checking

Official statistics indicate that approximately half a million people in England and Wales use the illegal drug ecstasy each year. The majority of users do so without knowledge of the exact content, as ecstasy is manufactured by illicit entrepreneurs. It is within this context that a growing momentum has built around the use and availability of drug checking services. Motivated by a desire to reduce drug-related harm, these schemes use drug testing technologies to assert the toxicity of ecstasy, communicating the results to partner agencies and engaging users with support services. Whilst the scope of these services is increasing, their remit in the UK remains limited. This means that ecstasy users keen to mitigate the potential harm of their drug use continue to employ a number of strategies to self-negotiate this terrain. This could be through only buying their drugs from a 'reputable' source, or taking smaller dosages at first to pilot the drug they are taking. A further technique used is the self-employment of drug testing technologies. It would appear that such independent drug checking engages far more users than official drug checking services. Yet empirical attention has focused on the latter rather than former of these. Subsequently, little is known about this process or the outcomes.

Stuart Taylor working alongside LJMU graduate Emily Jones recently sought to address this knowledge deficit, by studying a group of ecstasy users who use a privately owned drug testing kit. The research saw 20 members of this collective interviewed, allowing their views and experiences to be documented. The findings indicate that previous studies of independent drug checking have viewed this occurrence through a narrow lens, overlooking the wider purposes it may serve. So whilst drug checking amongst this collective was motivated by a desire to enhance feelings of safety, it also served to ensure that ‘big nights out’ went smoothly. It subsequently served a dual purpose – representing a tool to mitigate the harms of illegal drug use, as well as a way to enhance ecstasy-using experiences. These findings indicate that by extending the lens of research we are able to learn more about the motivations and purposes of those engaging with such harm reduction techniques. This is of crucial importance to those who design services which seek to engage ecstasy users, as it extends knowledge around their wants and needs.

View the articles: Contemporary Drug Problems and Criminology and Criminal Justice for further insight into Stuart’s work around drug prohibition and injustice and harm.

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