Spotlight on entire criminal justice detention system for first time in new £1.3m study

An expert in penal reform at the University of Nottingham has won £1.3m in European Research Council funding to develop the first ever model of criminal justice detention regulation, which could help to tackle the current prison crisis in England and Wales.

The study, by Dr Philippa Tomczak, will encompass police, court and prison detention and escorted transport between detention sites, using England and Wales as a case study.

The project, called RECEDE, aims to highlight how detention regulation could improve health and safety in the criminal justice system, benefiting detainees and society more broadly.

Despite ‘world-renowned’ detention monitoring apparatuses, the UK has seen a dramatic decline in prison safety and its imprisonment rates are now amongst the highest in Western Europe.

There are more self-harm and assaults than ever before in prisons in England and Wales. In 2016 alone, record suicide numbers affected prisoners, staff and bereaved families, draining ~£385m from public funds; staggeringly more than 10 times the annual cost of prison places.

“Crime rates are not rising, and yet criminal justice detention is expanding. Increasing the scale of criminal justice detention poses a major moral, social, economic and public health threat. The implications of bloated and unsafe detention facilities ripple across societies and amass for the future. Research-informed regulation could help to check these risks.”

“With a striking dearth of scholarship in the field, prison regulation has been problematically prioritised and examined in isolation, even though prison operates through police and court detention. Little attention has been devoted to overall systemic improvement. This is a major evidence gap, which there is a compelling need to address in this study,” Dr Tomczak adds.

In addition to detention regulation and governance mechanisms and policy, RECEDE will focus on human rights and system democratisation through detainee and voluntary sector participation in future criminal justice regulation. The project will be developed through a multidisciplinary research programme, linking criminology, law, geography and citizen participation studies.

Dr Tomczak successfully secured funds from the 2020 European Research Council (ERC) Starting Grants competition for the project, titled REgulating Criminal justicE DEtention: glocal prospects for improving health and safety in detention and society. The funding, worth in total €677m, is to help early-career scientists and scholars from 25 countries build their own teams and conduct pioneering research across all disciplines. The grants are part of the EU’s Research and Innovation programme, Horizon 2020.

President of the European Research Council (ERC), Professor Jean-Pierre Bourguignon, said, “The present health crisis showed that despite spectacular progress in research over the past decades, there still remain plenty of unsolved scientific mysteries, as well as lessons to be learnt from the past. Therefore, the best strategy to tackle it is to enable some of the brightest minds to pursue their most innovative ideas, in order to create opportunities for serendipitous discoveries. This is what the European Research Council is for. It’s clear that, if Europe is to be competitive globally, it needs to give excellent prospects to the next generation of researchers as these ERC Starting Grants do, and to invest much more in top blue sky research.”

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