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Studying Criminology at university

A Criminology and Forensic Studies degree is the perfect way to get the skills and knowledge needed to tackle one of the most enduring issues facing society.

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Criminology at the University of Portsmouth

Why study Criminology?

Join Megan Coghlan as she explores what it means to study Criminology at university.

Hi, everyone.

My name is Megan Coghlan and I am a lecturer at the Institute of Criminal Justice Studies at the University of Portsmouth.

This presentation is designed to highlight to you why you might want to study criminology or why you might not want to study criminology as the case may be.

So we're going to go through the components that make up a criminology degree and talk through them in a little bit of detail and to kind of highlight the skills that you can get out of choosing to study criminology at higher education level.

At the university level essentially.

I am aware that if I ask the question, what is criminology?

a lot of you may have a slight idea of what that means from just general knowledge or from your previous study of it at college.

But essentially when I'm talking about criminology, I'm talking about three main components.

So the first component is looking at the measurement of crime.

So actually understanding how much crime is out there?

What are the most common crimes in any given society?

Just getting an understanding of the context of crime.

Looking at the statistics basically, and to show us how much crime there is.

The second component is about developing an in-depth understanding of the reasons behind criminality.

So thinking about what causes crime.

In this component we're really relying on kind of theoretical explanations to help explain to us why people commit crime.

And the third key component, you could argue, is the more practical component.

So actually, we're aware that crime is an issue.

Now we need to think about how we control crime or what practises we need to put in place in our criminal justice system to help control crime, or in society more generally.

So you could argue there's three core components.

There's measurement, there's understanding, and there's the practical side of things.

And one of the great things about studying criminology is that in looking at those three components, you get to look at a variety of different perspectives.

So you might look at statistics to understand how much crime there is.

But when it comes to the in-depth understanding and understanding what causes crime, you might look at sociological type perspectives.

You might look at psychological type perspectives.

And when you look at controlling crime, you might consult legislation and look at the legal systems in different societies.

So you're actually getting experience of a variety of different perspectives when you study criminology and that for me is one of the key advantages of studying criminology at university level.

The other thing to point out to you, so before we start discussing these three components in more detail, it is worth mentioning that criminology is a popular topic.

This may be me stating the obvious.

But when you do a quick UCAS search with the word criminology, you'll see that there's over 160 different providers.

So 160 universities that have criminology as part of their degree or their course in some way.

And if you break that down further, there's over a thousand degrees that include criminology in the title.

So that is perhaps a little bit overwhelming in the sense of where do you start with narrowing down where you want to study criminology?

And there's a few things I want to point out to you that might help make that decision easier for you.

So the first thing might be the staff in a university because the staff are interested in certain areas of research and that may be reflected in what's taught at that university.

So, for example, at the University of Portsmouth, one of the popular modules is Missing Persons, and that links to the research interests of staff at the department.

That brings me onto my other way to help you decide what criminology degree is right for you, and that's to look at the option choices.

So I've already mentioned an option choice in missing persons, but some universities may have different option choices.

And it's really worth researching that because in your second and third year, you can really start to tailor the degree to what interests you.

And looking at those option choices in advance is a really nice way to make an informed choice about where you want to study criminology.

The last thing to point out in that list there of how you decide is the point about ranking and rating.

So for some of you, perhaps statistics is a really helpful indicator to show where you should study criminology.

So you can look up the Guardian league tables, for example, and see where each university is ranked in terms of subject.

So you could actually look up what university provides a good criminology degree in that sense.

So there's lots of information out there.

And while it may seem overwhelming, it is really worth doing your homework and putting in the groundwork to look at what university will be right for you.

So to set us up for our discussion of the core components of criminology, I want to start by doing a little quiz to see what you're familiar with.

So, to get us thinking about criminology, let's think about some basic statistics around criminology.

So I've got this little quiz here.

You can either think the answers in your head, we'll go through it question by question or you can write them down.

And I assume most of you are listening to this presentation at home so you could maybe quiz other people in your household or ask them if they know the answer, if you wish.

But we're going to do it fairly, we're going to go through it fairly quickly.

So the first question is how many people are in prisons worldwide today?

OK, so hopefully you've thought of an answer, I'm aware that a lot of the answers you give will be guesses, but just try and make an educated guess wherever possible.

The answer to Question 1 is that there's approximately 10.2 million people in prison worldwide.

Question 2 then is how many prisons are there in the UK?

And the answer is a 150 prisons in the UK.

Question 3.

What country is the highest user of prison in Western Europe?

And the answer there is England and Wales.

So you could argue Question 3 is slightly a trick question because England and Wales are two different countries.

But I'm keeping you on your toes.

Question 4.

How many police forces are there in the UK?

So, for example, we've Hampshire Constabulary, Sussex Constabulary, loads of different police forces.

So how many of them are there in the UK?

And the answer is 43 police forces and then the last question, which is going to be a guess, I'm assuming for everyone, is according to Parliament what's the estimated cost of reoffending in the UK per year to the taxpayer.

And the answer is drum roll, please...

£15 billion, which is incredibly high and emphasises the importance of studying criminology.

So can criminology help us to reduce reoffending rates and by doing so, reduce cost to the taxpayer?

So really emphasising there that the criminology degree can have real practical benefits too.

So one of the things that a criminology degree teaches you is it teaches you to be critical of the information presented to you.

And this graph highlights that.

So in thinking about the first component of criminology, the measurement component, and understanding how much crime there is, there's lots of different sources we can look at to get an understanding of how much crime there is.

On this graph.

I've included two sources, so the blue line with the dots is data from the Crime Survey of England and Wales.

And the bars down below that are different colours is data from police recorded data of crime.

And hopefully you're noticing that there's quite a discrepancy between the blue line at the top and the bars at the bottom.

And you're starting to wonder why that is.

And criminology really helps you to develop those thinking skills.

And there's various reasons for the discrepancy.

First of all, people may not always report minor crimes to the police, but they may report them in the survey.

Second of all, police recorded data has been inconsistent both over time and across different police forces, which has led to discrepancies.

And thirdly, victims may may be afraid to report crimes to the police for a variety of different reasons.

So there's an issue both with people being reluctant to report crimes, but also the ways in which the crimes are reported by the police, which means that we could argue the crime survey is a more reliable source in comparison.

Another way in which we might try and ascertain how much crime there is is actually looking at, well, how many offenders are there?

And one way to do that is to look at the prison population.

So these statistics are from 2019, but you can see that in total, there's nearly 83,000 people in prison, which is a really high figure.

And that's why England and Wales is classified as one of the highest users of prison in Western Europe.

Again, you can see that there's a breakdown there according to gender, so you might think, OK, well, why are there so many more male offenders compared to female offenders?

And this is something that you can study in criminology, things like gender and race and ethnicity.

These are all really important factors when it comes to understanding how much crime there is, who commits crime and why people commit crime.

So these three core components are really linked to one another and help to provide an overview of criminology.

So the second core component then is understanding what causes crime.

So developing that in depth explanation and some of these theories you may be familiar with.

Positivism is an old perspective but the argument was that you are born with either a physical or a psychological defect, which means that you are going to commit crime, it's almost it's out of your hands it's not really a choice, it's something that's determined because of how you were born.

And hopefully in thinking about critical thinking, a lot of you are sitting there thinking that might be a bit of a stretch to apply that to all offenders.

And you would be absolutely right.

It's an outdated perspective you could argue in that generally people aren't born bad.


So looking at theory is really helpful from the past because it helps us understand how the more modern theories have come about as well.

And in thinking about a more modern theory, if we skip to the next slide.

If I pick the labelling theory for example, this is the idea that really once an offender comes into contact with the criminal justice system, they are formally labelled as an offender.

And that formal label makes it much more difficult for individuals to successfully reintegrate into society.

Because, as you all know, one of the questions that appears on most job applications is have you got a criminal record?

So people with a criminal record are being identified as outsiders by their label, by that formal label, by the criminal justice system.

And as a result, they often return to crime because they are, in a sense, not allowed to rejoin conventional society.

And so that's the idea of labelling theory and it it helps give us a nice insight into the reasons behind criminality, in certain cases, it may not be the reason for everyone.

But it does give us a good insight into the reasons behind criminality.

So that's the second component of criminology then developing that in-depth understanding.

And the third component is the more practical side of well, how do we actually control crime?

So we know crime's an issue because we've looked at the statistics.

We have some understanding of why it's happening because we've looked at theory, but now we need to think about, well, how do we control it?

And one of the things you might think about when it comes to controlling crime is punishment.

So does punishment help us to control crime?

Does it make things worse?

That could be a question you go off and research in your own time.

But when you think about punishment, there's kind of two main perspectives within punishment.

The first or what I've labelled A is called reductivism.

And that's the idea that you're looking towards the future and you're designing punishment so that it helps to prevent future crimes.

So in that sense, you're focussing on punishments that help rehabilitate people.

You're maybe trying to avoid prison and focus on community type penalties.

So things that are going to try and help prevent crime in the future, that could be one approach to punishment.The second approach that you always, that you sometimes see as well is the retributivism approach.

And the idea with this is that you're looking at the past and you're actually saying, no, this person did commit a crime and because they did that, they deserve to be punished.

The idea is that the punishment is fair.

So, point 2 there under retributivism is that the punishment must match the crime.

And that means we're not handing out life sentences because people have stolen a loaf of bread we are ensuring that the harshness of the punishment actually matches the harshness of the crime that was committed.

So there are two ways, two different perspectives on punishment and punishment could be one way in which we control crime.

Of course, there's loads of loads of other ways.

It's just to provide you with a basic idea at this stage that criminology will look at.

So if I've captured your interest, if you're thinking, oh, criminology seems interesting, perhaps you might be wondering, well, do I need to prepare anything for university?

And there's nothing specific you need to prepare for the study of criminology, at the University of Portsmouth anyway.

And but as I say, do your research into your different universities and find out.

But in general, things that will really help you is reading the news, researching crime issues.

You could perhaps volunteer in the community or you could take on a little project or something to try and understand crime rates or reasons behind crime or ways to control crime.

But really, and I can't stress this enough, do read the news, it's always surprising how often people don't read the news.

And crime is really common, an issue that's often discussed there.

Criminology as a degree is really beneficial because it teaches you a lot of different skills.

You learn from a variety of different perspectives and that has advantages for the employment market.

So there are the obvious employment routes like policing, probation, prison service, your traditional criminal justice routes.

But please don't think that a criminology degree means you only have to follow those traditional routes because criminology degrees are teaching you a lot of skills that would be applicable to lots of different areas.

So you could work with the Ministry of Justice.

You could work with the Home Office because the Home Office would be very interested in how crime can be controlled for example.

You can look at the voluntary sector.

You can also look at the commercial sector.

There is a lot of opportunity out there for graduates with a criminology degree.

So please do bear that mind, that is important.

To sum everything up, then, the question for you is, why do I study criminology?

And to sum up everything I've said, well ultimately criminology helps you develop critical thinking skills.

It might change your perception of crime, so you might start the degree feeling very harsh about crime and change to be more lenient or vice versa, who knows?

It will provide you with an in-depth understanding of criminality and ways to control that.

It can contribute towards reducing crime.

And it'll teach you transferable skills that you can use then in your future career.

Criminology is always changing and so it's actually really exciting, subject to study, there's always new things cropping up.

And lastly, it is very interesting and I know I'm biased, but I really can't stress that enough.

The topic of criminology, the subject itself, is very interesting.

So after all that, if you have any questions, here is my email address.

And please feel free to get in touch I'd be more than happy to answer any criminology related questions.

Other than that, I hope you enjoyed this little presentation and I hope you all have a nice summer.

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