Explore our research in the area of probation, prison and penology

Building understanding of the role of punishment and how this links with processes of justice and rehabilitation.

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.

The focus of our interdisciplinary research is the theory and practices of punishment and rehabilitation, and the key agencies and professional groupings involved therein. The University of Portsmouth is a key provider of professional qualifications to probation officers in England and Wales through the provision of a research-informed curriculum. 

Our group members work with a range of agencies that have involvement with the criminal justice system, nationally and internationally, to develop knowledge, expertise and ethical practices.

Our research and knowledge transfer activities contribute to the ways in which the institutions of criminal justice respond to the problems of crime, punishment and rehabilitation. Key issues include:

  • the harms that justice systems perpetuate through harsh punishments thus locking in reoffending
  • the knowledge, skills and personal qualities required by practitioners to bring about positive outcomes for victims, communities and criminals
  • understanding the ways in which organisations work together to ensure rehabilitation and public protection.

Current projects and research impact

Michelle McDermott, Laura Haggar and Jennifer Grant are engaged in the development of an edited book linking theory to practice for probation officers, with the capacity for reflection in and on action being seen as a core skill.

Dr Aaron Pycroft is currently focusing on the understanding of forgiveness within the processes of justice, and questions why punishment is a default position within those processes. In developing the concept of criminology as peacemaking, he is working with academics and practitioners in the UK and USA to explore the relationships between criminology, theology, and philosophy and the ways in which they underpin the practices of community and restorative justice. In developing this work Jasmine Wood as been awarded a PhD bursary to explore the co-production of forgiveness in community Justice (supervised by Aaron Pycroft) and both are working in partnership with Pushing Change a peer recovery organisation in Portsmouth.

Dr Aaron Pycroft and Dr Karl Nunkoosing and are working with the Apple Tree Community in developing a peacemaking approach to the problem of adults with multiple and profound learning disabilities who are trapped in the adult training unit system, psychiatric hospitals and prisons due to a lack of community resources.

Professor Francis Pakes ethnographic research focuses on comparative criminal justice and considers why arrangements are different in different places and what we can learn from each other. He has written about the nature of prisons in Norway, Iceland and the Netherlands.

Dr Dennis Gough’s work has focused on the role of the voluntary sector, peer mentoring and multi-agency working within the delivery of community justice.

Megan Thomas is working with the University of Greenwich and University of Portsmouth's School of Architecture on trauma-informed practice in the design and delivery of services for women within the criminal justice system.

Dr Adrian Needs research interests include the role of life events as precursors to homicide and processes involved in personal change. He’s involved in the area of therapeutic communities and improving interpersonal relations in custodial settings as a necessary part of the rehabilitative process more generally. Recent research has encompassed the problems of former military personnel in prisons and the problems that veterans can face in making the transition from military to civilian life.

Dr Dominic Pearson researches community justice and ‘what works’ in reducing re-offending, rehabilitative Custodial Environments and high-risk Offender Management.

Recent research outputs

Pycroft, A., and Bartollas., C. (2022). Redemptive Criminology. Bristol. Bristol University Press

Christen-Schneider, C. and Pycroft, A. (2021). An Exploration of Trauma-Informed Practices in Restorative Justice: A Phenomenological Study. The International Journal of Restorative Justice. Online first https://www.elevenjournals.com/tijdschrift/TIJRJ/2021/Online%20first/IJRJ-D-20-00019

Maynard, E., Pycroft, A., & Spiers, J. (2021). “They say ‘yes, I’m doing it…. and I’m fine’”: the lived experience of supporting teenagers who misuse drugs. Journal of Social Work Practice, 35(2), 143-157.

Button, M., Gough, D., Shepherd, D., & Blackbourn, D. (2020). White collar criminals’ experience of imprisonment in England and Wales: revisiting the ‘special sensitivity’ debate. Deviant Behavior, 41(12), 1585-1600.

Boone, M., Pakes, F., & van Wingerden, S. (2020). Explaining the collapse of the prison population in the Netherlands: Testing the theories. European journal of criminology, 1477370819896220.

Pakes, F. (2020). Old-fashioned Nordic penal exceptionalism: the case of Iceland’s open prisons. Nordic Journal of Criminology, 21(2), 113-128.

Pycroft, A., & Gough, D. (Eds.). (2019). Multi-Agency Working in Criminal Justice 2e: Theory, Policy and Practice. Policy Press.

Partnerships and collaborations

We work in close collaboration with charities and government departments to deliver research. For example, we have worked with the Ministry of Justice since 2003 to provide qualifying awards for probation officers — in that time over 2,000 students have qualified as probation officers from the University of Portsmouth.

Our other research partnerships include:

  • Apple Tree Community
  • Corrymeela Community
  • Criminal Justice Alliance
  • Forgiveness Project
  • Police Foundation
  • Prison Service 
  • Probation Service
  • Pushing Change
  • Restorative Justice Council
  • User Voice


Group lead

Aaron Dominic George Pycroft Portrait

Dr Aaron Pycroft

Associate Professor in Criminal Justice and Social Complexity


School of Criminology and Criminal Justice

Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences

PhD Supervisor

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Group members:

Michela Scalpello Portrait

Ms Michela Scalpello

Senior Teaching Fellow


School of Criminology and Criminal Justice

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Ceri Louise Halfpenny Portrait

Mrs Ceri Halfpenny

Senior Teaching Fellow


School of Criminology and Criminal Justice

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Michelle Joyce Louise McDermott Portrait

Miss Michelle McDermott

Programme Area Lead


School of Criminology and Criminal Justice

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Megan Thomas Portrait

Mrs Meg Thomas

Senior Teaching Fellow


School of Criminology and Criminal Justice

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Laura Rose Haggar Portrait

Mrs Laura Haggar

Senior Lecturer


School of Criminology and Criminal Justice

Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences

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Jennifer Grant Portrait

Mrs Jennifer Grant

Senior Teaching Fellow


School of Criminology and Criminal Justice

Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences

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Laura Sibret Portrait

Miss Laura Sibret

Teaching Fellow


School of Criminology and Criminal Justice

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Hannah Sian Baumer Portrait

Dr Hannah Baumer

Teaching Fellow


School of Criminology and Criminal Justice

Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences

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Dominic Andrew Stuart Pearson Portrait

Dr Dominic Pearson

Associate Professor in Clinical Research and Practice in Forensic Psychology


Department of Psychology

Faculty of Science and Health

PhD Supervisor

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Dina Sebastiana De Sousa E Santos Portrait

Dr Dina Santos

Teaching Fellow


School of Criminology and Criminal Justice

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Explore our research

School of Criminology and Criminal Justice

Read more about the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, and explore the teaching and research activities that take place within it.

Female forensics worker checking fingerprint on computer screen
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Collaboration of Forensic Interviewing Group

The Collaboration examines the best ways to elicit reliable and fulsome information from interviewees in a trauma-informed way and to ensure informed decision-making.

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Cybercrime and Cybersecurity Group

We're researching how crime takes place using technology, such as cyber fraud, hacking, online abuse, and its impact on individuals and society. 

Computer hacker working at laptop
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Economic Crime Group

We're researching the scale, impact and cost of economic crimes — such as fraud, corruption and money laundering.

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Forensic Science Group

The forensic science research group at the University of Portsmouth is using science to identify, reconstruct and inform how crime is investigated.

Female forensics working studying fingerprint on computer
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Missing Persons Group

We're researching patterns of behaviour that may precede a person going missing and working to improve how cases are handled.

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Policing Research Group

We're working in collaboration with local, national and international police organisations to research the social, economic and political context in which policing operates.

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Victimology and Ecological Justice Group

We're researching victims and victimisation, inequality, domestic and online abuse, ecological justice, wildlife crime and climate change.

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