Applied Research at MMU is shaping the debate on criminal justice policy reform.

Through a series of research and consultancy projects the Policy Evaluation and Research Unit (PERU) at Manchester Metropolitan University is developing a new model of social justice and applying it to rethinking criminal justice policy and the reconfiguration of criminal justice services.

This work will be of interest to policy-makers, managers and professionals working in community safety and the criminal justice sector.

The programme has a number of distinct but related strands:

  • Mapping national, regional and local crime trends
  • Justice mapping
  • Justice Reinvestment
  • A new economic theory of criminal justice
  • New commissioning models such as Payment by Results and Social Impact Bonds
  • Social innovation in the criminal justice system

To discuss this programme please contact:

Chris Fox (Director of the Policy Evaluation and Research Unit) or Kevin Albertson (Deputy Director of the Policy Evaluation and Research Unit)


Mapping national, regional and local crime trends

We are interested in the ‘crime drop’ that has been experienced over recent years. Can some of it be explained with reference to the limitations of data on crime? Beyond that though, what does it tell us about changing technological, social and economic forces at work in England and Wales.

To aid our own work and that of policy-makers, managers and practitioners working in the community safety and criminal justice sector we produce regular analysis of key crime trends and related socio-economic factors.

These publications by staff at PERU may also be of interest:

Fox, C., Albertson, A., Ellison, M. and Martin, T. (2011) ‘How will the recession affect crime rates in Greater Manchester?’ Safer Communities Vol.10(3) pp.17 - 30

Albertson, K. and Fox, C (2012) Crime and Economics: An Introduction, London: Routledge

Justice mapping

‘Justice mapping’ involves analysis of the prison population and of relevant public spending in the communities to which people return from prison. It is an important ‘building block’ of Justice Reinvestment programmes but is important analysis in its own right.

For a detailed account of Justice Mapping, its origins in research on ‘million dollar blocks’ in the US and its potential to help in the redesign of criminal justice interventions and policy see:

Fox, C., Alberton, K. and Wong, K. (2013, in press) Justice Reinvestment: Can it Deliver More for Less? London: Routledge.

For a detailed discussion of the potential to undertake analysis associated with Justice Mapping in the UK see:

Fox, C. (2010) ‘Developing an offender problem profile’ Safer Communities Vol. 9(3) pp.17 - 27

Justice Reinvestment

At its heart, Justice Reinvestment postulates that it is more economically efficient to prevent criminality in a neighbourhood than it is to try to deal with the crime and the consequences of crime through the use of prison. This holistic approach locates Justice Reinvestment within economic and political debates about alternative modes of criminal justice. However, the breadth of its vision also touches upon broader debates about social justice and the type of society we want to live in.

We have been following the Justice Reinvestment movement with great interest for a number of years. For an outline of the basic elements of Justice Reinvestment and a discussion of some potential implications for the UK see:

Fox, C., Albertson, K. and Warburton, F. (2011) ‘Justice Reinvestment: can it deliver more for less?’ Howard Journal of Criminal Justice Vol. 50(2) pp. 119-136

Recently we have completed an extensive programme of research on Justice Reinvestment. We have outlined two distinct approaches to Justice Reinvestment and placed Justice Reinvestment in the context of broader debates about social justice. For an account of all this see:

Fox, C., Alberton, K. and Wong, K. (2013, in press) Justice Reinvestment: Can it Deliver More for Less? London: Routledge.

For our latest thinking of how Justice Reinvestment might fit within current proposed reforms to the criminal justice system in England and Wales see:

Fox, C., Albertson, K. and Wong, K. (2013, in press) ‘Justice Reinvestment and its Potential Contribution to Criminal Justice Reform’, Prison Service Journal

A new economic theory of criminal justice

Economic ideas and concepts have always influenced our thinking about crime and criminal justice. Increasingly, however, criminologists, policy-makers and practitioners who draw on or seek to critique economic ideas in criminology take a rather narrow view of economics based on the prevailing orthodoxy: the so-called neo-liberal economic school of thought which posits society is comprised of self-serving, instrumentally rational actors. This is to the detriment of theory, policy and practice. Within criminology theoretical debates that do not acknowledge the ideas increasingly influential in the ‘new economics’ are unnecessarily restrictive. Criminal justice policy debates become entrenched with one side seeing ‘the market’ as a panacea for all society’s ills and the other any form of ‘privatisation’ as unacceptable. Discussions about practice are incomplete with a failure to explore the relationship between different models of service commissioning and specific approaches to reducing crime and reoffending.

In a series of papers and books we are:

describing the neo-liberal paradigm that dominates economic discussions of crime and criminal justice;
setting out the key challenges to this model made by philosophers, Game Theorists and Behavioural Economists;
demonstrating how a narrow view of economic thinking hampers debate on crime and criminal justice theory, policy and practice; and
developing a new economic theory of crime and criminal justice, illustrating how such a theory can be helpful in reframing key debates in criminal justice and suggesting a new direction for criminal justice policy.

We set out some of our early thinking in:

Fox, C. and Albertson, A (2010) ‘Could economics solve the prison crisis?’ The Probation Journal, Vol. 57(3) pp.263-280

We provided a more comprehensive review of the neo-liberal paradigm and its limitations in:

Albertson, K. and Fox, C (2012) Crime and Economics: An Introduction, London: Routledge

We further develop our critique of the neo-liberal paradigm and start to sketch out a new economic theory of criminal justice in:

Fox, C., Alberton, K. and Wong, K. (2013, in press) Justice Reinvestment: Can it Deliver More for Less? London: Routledge.

New commissioning models: Payment by Results and Social Impact Bonds

Payment by Results (PbR), allows the government to pay a provider of services on the basis of specified outcomes achieved rather than the inputs or outputs delivered. Linked to PbR is the innovative source of funding social interventions know as Social Impact Bonds (SIBs). These allow the financing of social outcomes via private investment. It is hoped that PbR will deliver more innovative services from a wider range of providers while reducing the risk for the tax payer.

In a series of publications we discuss the potential benefits of PbR and SIBs and survey their use across the UK public sector. Concentrating in particular on the criminal justice system we have set out some of the key challenges to the use of PbR and SIB. Currently, our view is that while PbR has a place in commissioning services, the narrow focus on reconviction as the only outcome and the gaps in the evidence base on ‘what works’ will limit its use in the Criminal Justice System and lead investors to conclude that PbR/SIB in the Criminal Justice System are too risky as vehicles for substantial investment.

For detailed analysis see:

Fox, C. and Albertson, A. (2011) ‘Payment by results and social impact bonds in the criminal justice sector: new challenges for the concept of evidence-based policy?’ Criminology and Criminal Justice, Vol.11(5) pp.395–413

Fox, C. and Albertson, K. (2012) ‘Is ‘Payment by Results’ the most efficient way to address the challenges faced by the criminal justice sector?’ The Probation Journal Vol.59(4) 355–373

Social innovation in the criminal justice system

Social innovation can take place across the public, private and not-for-profit sectors and cut across a wide range of products and services addressing new needs or developing new processes that address existing needs in more efficient ways. Social innovation has played an important role in the development of interventions and movements in the criminal justice system including Restorative Justice, the use of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Justice Reinvestment.

We are interested in the potential for social innovation to shape new directions in criminal justice interventions and policies. However, it is a broad concept and the research evidence relating to it is still emergent and so it is not always easy to pinpoint the factors that facilitate social innovation. They will range across government policies including approaches to commissioning services, the regulation of services, the availability of different forms of finance, the potential to establish different types of legal entities to deliver services and access to data. Many other facilitators will be outside the direct control of government including the formation of new social movements (Restorative Justice has some links with the rise of the victims movement) and technological developments (Justice Reinvestment was made possible in part, through increasing personal computing power and the development of Geographical Information Systems).