Prison interior between cell bars

Penology Research

Explore our work in penology, one of our areas of expertise in Criminology

Prisons and the probation services deal with some of the most excluded members of society, and research is needed to challenge the assumptions of the justice system and to promote change through good quality research and scholarly activity.

Through our penology research, we're working to better understand the role of punishment, and how this links with processes of justice and rehabilitation. Our work is helping shape how criminal justice practitioners work, by linking theory to practice in working with offenders.

Through the Ministry of Justice and the delivery of probation officer qualifications, we have strong links with the National Probation Service and Community Rehabilitation Companies.

Our work is frequently published in leading academic journals within the field, including Critical Criminology, The Probation Journal, The Howard Journal, Prison Service Journal, and The Journal of Theoretical and Philosophical Criminology.

Our research covers the following key topics

  • Penology and prisons
  • Community justice
  • Victimology
  • Multi-agency working
  • Rehabilitation studies
  • Substance misuse
  • Mental health
  • Women and the criminal justice system
  • Race and the criminal justice system
  • Forgiveness
  • Complexity theory
  • Restorative justice


Our research relies on a variety of methods – including mixed method case study approaches, narrative hermeneutics, and interpretive phenomenological analysis. 

Collaborations and funders

We've worked in close collaboration with charities and government departments to deliver research, including:

  • One Small Thing – a charity working to promote Trauma Informed Care in Prisons, which has funded an evaluation study by Madeline Petrillo
  • The Healing Trauma Evaluation Project – in this project we evaluated the Healing Trauma intervention in 7 women's prisons in England, and measured the impact of Healing Trauma on symptoms of trauma and offending-related behaviours among women prison residents. Our evaluation – which was presented at the House of Commons – concluded that Healing Trauma has positive impacts on depression, anxiety, PTSD, psycholgical distress, and trauma-related problems such as dissociation and sleep disturbance
  • The Ministry of Justice – since 2003, we have contracted with the Ministry of Justice to provide qualifying awards for probation officers, and in that time over 2000 students have qualified as probation officers from the University of Portsmouth
  • Dr Aaron Pycroft is also working with the Restorative Justice Council, the Criminal Justice Alliance, User Voice, the Police Foundation, the Corrymeela Community, the Forgiveness Project, the Frank Zeidler Center for Public Dialog and the North County Policing Cooperative (Missouri) to develop practices based on the relationships between forgiveness and justice.

Publication highlights

Discover our areas of expertise

Penology is one of our 7 areas of expertise in our Criminology research area. Explore the others below.

Economic Crime

We’re looking at economic crime, assessing the methods used to combat it, and developing new ways to protect individuals and organisations from fraud, corruption, money laundering and intellectual property crime.

Man checking financial figures on calculator
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Forensic interviewing

We're exploring new and better ways to gather quality, reliable information from crime scenes and witnesses' minds – and helping develop protocols and practices that ensure this human data is protected and interpreted correctly.

Woman writing forensic studies notes on whiteboard
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Missing Persons

In our Centre for the Study of Missing Persons, we're identifying patterns of behaviour that precede a person going missing and working to change the policies and practices that determine how such cases are handled.

Empty pairs of shoes left on the beach
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Cybercrime and Cybersecurity

We're exploring the growing threat and impact cybercrime at all levels of society, investigating the methods and motives of the people who commit it, and finding new ways to deal with them.

Computer hacker working at laptop
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In the wake of a prolonged period of budget cuts, our work deals with the most-pressing issues facing the police service – from how police officers learn, to the individual factors that can influence an investigation.

Two police officers in busy street
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Forensic science

We're taking a closer look at how science can help identify, eliminate, reconstruct and inform the ways in which crime is investigated – including through fingerprinting and DNA recovery.

Female forensics working studying fingerprint on computer
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Research groups


Interested in a PhD in Criminology?

Browse our postgraduate research degrees – including PhDs and MPhils – at our Criminology postgraduate research degrees page.