Crime is falling yet prison populations and community-based sanctions continue to rise. For many, the system is not working and is known to exacerbate many of the problems it seeks to stem. Government reports recognise the problem yet there has been little impact on sentencing or on underlying trends in criminal justice policy and practice. The emergent re-design of community justice and the recent cancellation of plans for a new women’s prison prompt a collective re-imagining of what humane, progressive, and effective responses to offending behaviour might look like. Our starting point is that there is a will for reform but that a paradigm shift is required. 


This programme will host three events bringing together key players from policy and practice communities and from a re-energised civic society.  This will include: the judiciary, Scottish Prison Service, police, social work, health, churches, victim and citizen groups, and will involve a range of academic disciplines, including: divinity, philosophy, linguistics, history, politics, social work, marketing, law and criminology. To effect change when previous attempts to do so have failed requires looking beyond policy fixes to the values and the socio-cultural drivers that take practice in particular directions. This programme will explore the values that currently underpin Scottish Justice, as well as those that should underpin it in the future.


Specific objectives:

  • To seek to understand why, in spite of research evidence of what does and doesn’t work in reducing re-offending, and against policy direction, Scotland continues to place undue reliance on punitive and ineffective criminal justice responses
  • To explore and identify the barriers to the advancement of a more humane, participatory and effective justice practice, including the role of particular ideologies and rhetoric and of professional and activist interests
  • To envision, using research evidence, what a humane, participatory and effective criminal justice system might look like
  • To harness the knowledge and mobilise the energies of professional communities and civic society to make and sustain the case for a new criminal justice paradigm
  • To institute a broad and diverse programme of events and knowledge exchange activities that extends beyond the seminar series to mobilise and sustain pathways for change.

The overall aim of the proposal is to move beyond the current consensus for change towards a collaborative programme for action, that will see tangible results in reducing the use of imprisonment and in the emergence of more humane, participatory and effective responses to offending.

Programme Team

Dr Mark Smith, University of Edinburgh
Dr Trish McCulloch, University of Dundee
Prof. Fergus McNeill, University of Glasgow
Prof. Lesley McAra, University of Edinburgh
Ms Maggie Mellon, Scottish Consortium on Crime and Criminal Justice
Mr Pete White, Positive Prisons? Positive Futures
Prof. Bill Whyte, University of Edinburgh
Prof. James Mitchell, University of Edinburgh
Associate Prof. Iain Black, Heriot-Watt University