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Research in Youth Justice, Probation, Custody and Vulnerability

The Centre for Criminology has a well-established interest in youth justice research.  There is particular emphasis on how research findings can be applied to policy and practice in such areas as desistance, diversion, children’s rights, restorative justice and homelessness.  

The Centre also has a long history of research on the probation service and custodial institutions, and related topics such as the rehabilitation and resettlement of offenders, effectiveness and accountability in policy and practice, inter-agency partnerships and relationships between the criminal justice system, the Third Sector and the UK and Welsh governments.  

Staff enjoy close working relationships with policy makers, managers and practitioners in the fields of probation, youth justice and custodial services. Members work with colleagues in the Substance Use Research Group, with whom they organise the Lessons from the Lockdown series. They are also closely involved in the British Society of Criminology Vulnerability Research Network - Professor Harriet Pierpoint is chair and Dr Cheryl Allsop, head of the Cold Case Unit, leads the theme on vulnerable victims. 

Recent projects

This project, funded by the Leverhulme Trust, was conducted by Professors Kate Williams and Mike Maguire in partnership with Dr Mary Corcoran, Keele University. The main aim was to understand how changes in government policy, funding structures, monitoring and evaluation, partnerships and collaborations, and service user needs, have affected the work, culture and relationships of voluntary organisations providing services in the criminal justice and penal field. The research entailed over 200 interviews with people working in the voluntary sector, policy makers, commissioners and strategic decision makers in the criminal justice field. Publications emerging from the research include:

  • Corcoran, M., Maguire, M. and Williams, K. (2019). ‘Alice in Wonderland: Voluntary sector organisations’ experiences of Transforming Rehabilitation’. Probation Journal, Vol 66, 96-112. 
  • Maguire, M., Williams, K. and Corcoran, M. (2019). ‘”Penal drift” and the voluntary sector’. Howard Journal, Vol. 58 (3), 430-449. 
  • Maguire, M. (2020). ‘Privatisation, Marketisation and the Penal Voluntary Sector’ in P. Bean (ed). Privatisation in Criminal Justice. London: Routledge.
  • Corcoran, M., Maguire M. and Williams, K. (2020). ‘Constructive ambiguity, market imaginaries and the penal voluntary sector in England and Wales’ in K. Albertson. M. Corcoran and J. Phillips (eds). Marketisation and Privatisation in Criminal Justice. Bristol: Policy Press.

Professor Jonathan Evans and Dr John Deering conducted an empirical studies into the introduction of new ways of working and occupational and professional working cultures within youth offending services.

This project was conducted within a youth offending service in South-East Wales and looked at staff responses to the introduction of AssetPlus, a document intended to promote desistance-informed practice. 

Given that youth offending services are now expected by government to develop practice underpinned by desistance theory, the study considers how this and AssetPlus had been received and translated into practice, basing this on the often-unheard views of practitioners and operational managers. 

The researchers concluded that AssetPlus was not widely welcomed as a practice tool, but that practitioners were likely to be more receptive to desistance-based practice. 

The conclusion that this practice might be based upon work with and on behalf children and young people in conflict with the law by promoting: ‘human capital and a more pro-social identity, via motivational work’ and ‘social capital, via advocacy and brokerage’, all facilitated by an empathic professional relationship. 

Professor Jonathan Evans and Dr John Deering conducted an online study with practitioners and managers in youth offending services in England and Wales. The aims were to investigate the ‘current state’ of occupational and professional cultures in youth offending services. 

The questionnaire explored the views of staff on a range of topics related to their work. Working with children and young people who are on the verge of entering the youth justice system, or have already done so, has undergone significant change in recent decades and we were interested in the views of workers about these changes and the impact they may have  had upon their beliefs and values related to their work. The questionnaire asked about why individuals became youth offending service workers, their professional values and ethics, experiences of working in the sector and related issues. Data from the study are currently being analysed with a view to submitting an article to a journal in due course. 

Harriet Pierpoint has undertaken a research project funded by Welsh Government: Evaluation of Homelessness Services provided to Young People leaving the Secure Estate, Language and Communication Needs Research Project for Young People from Wales in the Youth Justice System

The report considers how local authorities, Youth Offending Teams, secure establishments and the third sector understand and implement the processes set out in the Pathway, and the challenges they face. It also looks at the experiences of the young people who come into contact with the Pathway. Generally, the Pathway is being implemented as envisaged and the main impact has been the development of closer relationships between partners. However, there are some challenges and areas for improvement. 

The published report is available here

Pierpoint has been invited to present her research on homelessness services for young people leaving the secure estate at key national and international conferences including for Cymorth Cymru, the umbrella body for providers of homelessness, housing related support and social care services in Wales; the British Society of Criminology and the American Society of Criminology, and at the Wales Housing Research Conference.

Dr Palash Kamruzzaman, Professor Kate Williams and Professor Ali Wardak led a multi-country project, which focused on the forcibly displaced Rohingyas living in Bangladesh and internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Afghanistan. The study was funded by the British Academy. The research offers an in-depth and nuanced understanding of some of the world’s poorest, most excluded and victimised groups of people.

Between 2012 and 2017, Professor Mike Maguire and Anna Clancy conducted a major study, funded by the Big Lottery, of the innovative Invisible Wall Wales project in Parc prison, Bridgend. 

Aimed at maintaining contact and improving relationships between prisoners and their children and families, this incorporated a ‘family wing’ whose residents undertook numerous parenting-related courses and interventions; radically reformed, family-friendly visiting arrangements and environment, managed by Barnardo’s staff; and ‘through the gate’ Family Intervention Mentors employed to work with prisoners and their families before and after release. 

The overall conclusion was that the Invisible Wall Wales intervention had had a substantial positive impact upon its participants’ lives. There was strong evidence of enhanced quality of family life and community inclusion; improvements in accommodation and employment, and reductions in substance misuse, among both ex-prisoners and adult family members; and improvements in children’s emotional well-being, attention levels, behaviour and peer relationships. 



Clancy, A. and Maguire, M. (2018) Prisoners’ Children and Families: Can the Walls be Invisible? Research Report. Welsh Centre for Crime and Social Justice. Published online.  

Clancy, A. and Maguire, M. (2017) Prisoners and their children: an innovative model of ‘whole family’ support. European Journal of Probation, Vol 9, 3: 210-30.

Clancy, A. and Maguire, M. (2020) ‘”He is a new man, a proper family man”: The impact of a specialist family wing on the quality of family relationships and paternal identity among imprisoned fathers.’ Howard Journal

Harriet Pierpoint is interested in vulnerability and fairness in the criminal justice system and she published in internationally recognised, peer reviewed journals in this field, as well as contributing to practitioner publications and the broader media. 

The National Appropriate Adult Network consulted Harriet in the development of their current national standards, approved by the Youth Justice Board (YJB), Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS) and Association of Police and Crime Commissioners (APCCS). She is also co-chair of the British Society of Criminology Vulnerability Research Network and an invited member of the South Wales Police Independent Ethics Committee. She is particularly interested in facilitating the voices of users in research projects. Two of her four PhD students are currently funded to undertake research in this area.

Dr Pierpoint authored a paper on The Risks of Voluntary Interviews for Criminal Law Review ( Published - 1 Sep 2020).  The article considers the increasing use of voluntary interviews of suspects by the police.

Harriet Pierpoint is interested in vulnerability and fairness in the criminal justice system. Her work focusses on vulnerable people in the criminal justice system, including young suspects, adult offenders with speech, language and communication needs, prison leavers and ex-offenders facing or experiencing homelessness. One body of her work relates to the age of criminal responsibility (ACR). 

The age of criminal responsibility (ACR) is the minimum age that a child can be prosecuted and punished by law for an offence and is 10 years in England and Wales. There are frequent calls to raise it from the United Nations (UN), professional bodies and academics, as well as legal attempts.

She has argued, drawing on criminological, sociological, psychological, legal and neuroscientific perspectives, that the ACR should be raised from 10 to 14 years in England and Wales. Alternatively, she argues, that if the ACR is to be retained at 10, then the prosecution should be required to demonstrate that a child under 14 knew what they were doing was seriously wrong (as opposed to simple mischief). Given the appeals to increase the ACR, the uncertainty around current public opinion (with the last British survey in 2010) and its recent increase to 12 years in Scotland, it is timely to examine the appropriateness of the ACR in England and Wales. 

Professor Pierpoint was invited to participate in the British Academy’s ongoing Childhood and the State project exploring the changing role of the state in the lives of British children over the past four decades. This project seeks to re-frame debates around childhood in both the public and policy realms, and move beyond academic, policy and professional silos and towards a new conceptualisation of children in policymaking, drawing on and contributing to developments in all four nations. 

Professor Pierpoint was commissioned by the British Academy to write a provocation paper Pierpoint, H. (2020) ‘Age of Criminal Responsibility in England and Wales’ and attend two workshops for a select group of academics and senior policymakers.

The purpose of the paper is to explain what is meant by the ACR, to explain the position in England and Wales, and beyond, and then to take a multi-disciplinary approach to debating whether the ACR in England and Wales is appropriate — by drawing on criminological, sociological, psychological, legal and neuroscientific perspectives.

She presented the paper at the British Academy event 'How should children and young people accused of a crime be treated within the justice system?’ on 8 December 2020 and has received ethical approval for an online survey on public opinion on the ACR.

Professor Jonathan Evans, University of South Wales (Lead author)

Reviewers include Dusty Kennedy, visiting fellow; and Brian Heath, MBE, visiting fellow.

The Jersey Youth Justice Review examines the way in which Jersey's justice system deals with children. It was commissioned by the Government in Jersey in response to a recommendation from the Independent Jersey Care Inquiry.

It finds good practice and best intentions throughout the criminal justice system, but also many areas that could be improved. It makes a significant number of recommendations that have been accepted in principle by the Council of Ministers.

The report proposes a model in which 'children are put first' and where, even if young people have done wrong, the criminal justice system recognises that they are, first and foremost, children.


Dr Cheryl Allsop.jpg

Dr Cheryl Allsop, obtained her ESRC funded PhD, which focused on how the police seek to solve long term unsolved murders and stranger rapes, from Cardiff University. Her book Cold Case Reviews: DNA, Detective Work and Unsolved Major Crimes is based on this ethnographic research. Cheryl is on the board of Locate International, a charity set up to work with the families of long-term missing people. She established the University of South Wales Cold Case Unit, leading a team of students and community volunteers and experts reviewing unsolved missing people cases, on behalf of the families, in conjunction with Locate International. Her current research is focused on missing people investigations, especially vulnerable missing people, no-body murders and unidentified found remains.  Dr Allsop is a member of the BSC Vulnerability Research Network and the lead for the vulnerable victims theme.

Professor Mike Maguire, Professor of Criminology USW

Professor Mike Maguire has a long-standing interest in the rehabilitation and resettlement of offenders and the organizations which work with them.  His primary focus has been upon prisoner resettlement (or ‘re-entry’). He has conducted numerous research projects examining conceptual, policy and practice issues both in the statutory post-release supervision of ex-prisoners by probation services, and in the role of other public, voluntary and private agencies.

Harriet Pierpoint, associate professor Criminology

Harriet Pierpoint is Professor of Criminology. She is interested in vulnerability and fairness in the criminal justice system. Her work focusses on vulnerable people in the criminal justice system, including young suspects, adult offenders with speech, language and communication needs, prison leavers and ex-offenders facing or experiencing homelessness. Her interest in vulnerability also extends to the abuse of animals. She has expertise in quantitative and qualitative research methods, and a particular interest in research ethics.

Dr Ali Wardak_14282.jpg

Professor Ali Wardak played a central role in founding the BSc Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of South Wales.  His main research interests focus on comparative crime and justice, criminological theory and the relationships between state and non-state justice systems.

Prof Kate Williams, Criminology USW

Professor Kate Williams is Professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice and Director of the Welsh Centre for Crime and Social Justice, which brings together researchers across eight Welsh universities and builds links with both policy and practice. She has undertaken and managed numerous empirical research projects and has published on a wide range of crime and justice related topics, including youth justice, female offending, CCTV, victims, crime reduction, risk management, human rights and social justice.

Professor Jonathan_Wynne_Evans, Criminology USW

Professor Jonathan Evans is Professor of Youth Justice Policy and Practice. His research, publications and teaching are mainly in the areas of youth justice, children’s human rights, public care, social work practice and youth policy. He is also a member of both the Wales Youth Justice Advisory Panel and Hwb Doeth.

Professor Kevin Haines, Criminology, Visiting Professor

Professor Kevin Haines is a Visiting Professor of Youth Justice Policy and Practice. Kevin's research focuses on putting the child back into youth justice.

Brian-Heath-Visiting-Fellow, Criminology

Brian Heath, MBE, is a Visiting Fellow of Probation Policy and Practice. Brian is the former Chief Probation Officer of the Jersey Probation and After Care Service.

Dusty Kennedy, Visiting Fellow, Criminology

Dusty Kennedy is a Visiting Fellow of Youth Justice Policy and Practice. Dusty is the Director of TRM Academy, which offers help for troubled children and young people, and a member of Welsh Government's Interim Youth Work Board.spent three years as Welsh Government Head of Youth Justice Strategy.

Professor Peter-Raynor, visiting professor Criminology

Professor Peter Raynor is a Visiting Professor of Probation Policy and Practice. A former probation officer and qualified social worker, much of his research has concerned the evidence base for effective probation practice. He has carried out research on victims of crime, drug and alcohol services, young offenders, social work education, unemployed young people, intensive probation, and the relationship between rehabilitation and justice and a range of other criminal justice topics.