Criminology Dissertation Topics

Prison and Society

Choosing to write about prison and the society could make for a very interesting topic. You could take a look at prisoner rights, rehabilitation or their integration back into society. If you are struggling to think of a topic, maybe these suggestions could help:

Example prison and society dissertation topic 1:

‘A road to nowhere’ – an analysis of the effectiveness of work-training programmes within the Probation Service and their effect upon reoffending rates: A case study in Leicester 2008 – 2012

The 2011 review into the probation service of Leicestershire noted that the number of places offered to offenders on training schemes had increased. However, the nature of those training places remained firmly rooted in manual work. Given the decline of industry across the nation and the particular rise of service-centres within the East Midlands this dissertation questions whether the training proposals offered (for instance licensing on fork-lift trucks) is appropriate – or does it merely lead to ex-offenders being qualified for jobs that do not exist – thereby potentially leading to a vicious circle of unemployment and crime. This is a dissertation that whilst based in criminological and probation service literature would also benefit from first hand interviews with both officers and offenders.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Bowen, E., Gilchrist, E. A. and Beech, A. R. (2005), ‘An examination of the impact of community-based rehabilitation on the offending behaviour of male domestic violence offenders and the characteristics associated with recidivism’, Legal and Criminological Psychology, Vol. 10, pp. 189-209.
  • Copas, J. and Marshall, P. (1998), ‘The offender group reconviction scale: a statistical reconviction score for use by probation officers’, Journal of the Royal Statistical Society: Series C (Applied Statistics), Vol.47, pp. 159-171.
  • McGuire, J. (2008) Social problem solving and offending: Evidence, evaluation and evolution. Chichester: John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

Example prison and society dissertation topic 2:

Votes for prisoners: A step too far?

The committing of crime and being sentenced to prison has always, traditionally been seen to result in the removal of certain rights to prisoners as they ‘;pay their debt to society’. This has meant within the UK that prisoners have not been allowed to vote. The decision by the ECHR however means that English prisoners should now be able to vote. This dissertation reviews both the legal and ethical arguments surrounding this argument and also questions the likely effect of the empowering of prisoners in such a manner on issues such as marginal seats and voting intentions. A cross disciplinary dissertation that contains a number of interesting avenues that could be effectively explored.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Cheney, D. (2008) ‘Prisoners as citizens in a democracy’, The Howard Journal of Criminal Justice, Vol. 47, pp. 134-145.
  • Dhami, M. K. (2005) ‘Prisoner disenfranchisement policy: A threat to democracy?’ Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy, Vol.5, pp. 235-247.
  • Eady, D. (2007) ‘Prisoners’ rights since the Woolf Report: Progress or procrastination?’ The Howard Journal of Criminal Justice, Vol. 46, pp. 264-275.

Example prison and society dissertation topic 3:

Work undertaken by prisoners in detention: A consideration of whether it is forced labour or an appropriate means of control

As part of their paying ‘a debt to society’ prisoners are expected to work. The work involved can, within UK prisons, be varied with normal-grade prisoners preparing lunch and breakfast packs for fellow inmates, to gardening around the prison and sewing t-shirts. In contrast, trusted prisoners are allowed to become cleaners, giving them open access to their cells throughout the day, the ability to shower when they wish (rather than during allocated association times), whilst those who are employed on the serveries are able to obtain extra food at the end of their shifts. There are, therefore, a variety of perks to inmate working – particularly for those who are ‘trusted’. However, the rate of pay for such work is minimal – with a maximum of £10 per work being earned. This is substantially below minimum wage requirements and as prisoners are expected to work or lose benefits – there is an argument that it is akin to forced labour as they cannot, unlike normal workers, withdraw their services. An issues of rights, responsibilities, civil debt, punishment, rehabilitation and issues of government expenditure this is a most interesting dissertation that has the potential to be developed in a number of ways.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Black, J. (2010) ‘Prison works? Is it to be a modern industrialised gulag or a place to modify and control offending behaviour?’, Criminal Justice Matters, Vol. 74(1), pp. 6-7.
  • Kang, S. (2009) ‘Forcing prison labor: International labor standards, human rights and the privatization of prison labor in the contemporary United States’, New Political Science, Vol. 31(2), pp. 137-161.
  • Taylor, J.R. (2011) ‘Constitutionally unprotected: Prison slavery, felon disenfranchisement, and the criminal exception to citizenship rights’, Gonzaga Law Review, Vol. 47, pp. 365-389.

Youth Crime and Justice System

If you are unsure on what to write your dissertation about but know you are interested in youth crime and justice, then maybe these suggestions are for you:

Example youth crime and justice system dissertation topic 1:

Labelling and delinquency: A self-fulfilling prophecy?

Sociological criminologists suggest that labelling at the onset of teenage years may have profound consequence for self-esteem. It follows that being labelled as ‘failure’ or ‘delinquent’ may result in the tagged person becoming increasingly dejected. US studies suggest that faced with such self-loathing and low self-esteem many (especially young black males) at a crossroads of life-style find solace within gang membership. Using interviews with street gangs in Liverpool and Manchester as well as social workers, police and probation services, this dissertation seeks to address the extent to which negative labelling may result in a downward spiral of self opinion ;leading eventually to an embracing of crime.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Bernburg, J. G. and Krohn, M. D. (2003), ‘Labelling, life chances, and adult crime: The direct and indirect effects of official intervention in adolescence on crime in early adulthood’, Criminology, Vol. 41, pp. 1287-1318.
  • Paternoster, R. and Brame, R. (1997), ‘Multiple routes to delinquency? A test of developmental and general theories of crime’, Criminology, Vol. 35, pp. 49-84.
  • Smith, D. A. and Brame, R. (1994), ‘On the initiation and continuation of delinquency’, Criminology, Vol. 32, pp. 607-629.

Example youth crime and justice system dissertation topic 2:

An analysis of the role that subcultural theories have in explaining the execution of crimes: a comparative study between contemporary Britain and the USA.

Subcultural theory emanated from the Chicago School in the early part of the twentieth century and has, since the mid 1970s been developed by the Centre for Cultural Studies (CCCS) in Birmingham. Through charting changes in economic status and delinquency, social values and frustration/failure within educational surroundings, this study compares the defining characteristics of the creation of teenage gangs on both sides of the Atlantic. Grounded in existing academic studies this dissertation is strengthened by the fact that primary research is also carried out with both gang members and young offenders in Birmingham and Chicago – thereby making a valuable further contribution to the existent body of knowledge upon this subject.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Bennett, A. (1999) ‘Subcultures or neo-tribes? Rethinking the relationship between youth, style and musical taste’, Sociology, Vol. 33 (3), pp. 599-617.
  • Butsch, R. (2001) ‘Considering resistance and incorporation’, Leisure Sciences, Vol. 23, pp. 71-79.
  • Cohen, A. (1955) Delinquent boys: The culture of the gang. New York: The Free Press.

Example youth crime and justice dissertation topic 3:

Arson against educational institutions, committed by juveniles: Rates and reasons

The number of incidences of arson upon schools (especially carried out within the long summer vacation) is rising year on year. This dissertation uses qualitative research techniques to supplement existing academic opinion on the subject. Through so doing police officers, head teachers, fire service personnel along with the perpetrators are interviewed to assess the reasons (underlying and stated) as to why such attacks are on the increase. An analysis of the treatments offered to such offenders is also offered within this work through a review of probation literature. Finally, it recommends programmes that may be held during summer periods that may redirect delinquent behaviour.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Canter, D.V. and Almond, L. (2007) A strategy for arson. Centre of Investigative Psychology, Project report. Liverpool: University of Liverpool.
  • Hayden, C., Williamson, T. and Webber, R. (2007) ‘Schools, pupil behaviour and young offenders: Using postcode classification to target behaviour support and crime prevention’, British Journal of Criminology, Vol. 47(2), pp. 293-310.
  • Herbert, R.L. (1990) ‘Arson and vandalism in schools: What can the educational psychologist do?’ Educational Psychology in Practice: Theory, Research and Practice in Educational Psychology, Vol. 6(2), pp. 65-70.

Ethnicity and Race

Thinking of completing a dissertation based on a specific race but are not sure how to narrow down your topic? Maybe these suggestions would be helpful:

Example ethnicity and race dissertation topic 1:

‘Strain theory’: A growing issue in Afro-Caribbean communities in London?

This dissertation uses Mertonian anomie theory in comparing young, male black communities in New York and London, and considers the extent to which this phenomenon has spread to the UK. The rise of a drug sub-culture – and those who profit from it – is a key component of this consideration. A further factor is the increase of small, independent music labels that offer a glimpse of a wealthier future to performers in hip/hop and rap. The study utilises statistical evidence to form conclusions, as well as interviews with community elders and young people.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Agnew, R. (1999) ‘A general strain theory of community differences in crime rates’, Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, Vol. 36(2), pp. 123-155.
  • Alexander, C.E. (1996) The art of being black. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Cochran, J.K. and Bjerregaard, B. (2012) ‘Structural anomie and crime:A cross-national test’, International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, Vol. 56(2), pp. 203-217.
  • Gunter, A. (2008) ‘Growing up bad: Black youth, `road’ culture and badness in an East London neighbourhood’, Crime Media Culture, Vol. 4(3), pp. 349-366.

Example ethnicity and race dissertation topic 2:

Anti-Muslim hate crime in the wake of 9/11: A UK perspective

After the terrorist attacks in the US, UK and Spain, incidents of hate crime against Muslims increased. This dissertation examines this claim; it conducts a wide-ranging review of anti-Muslim crime reported in the UK over the last fifteen years and analyses the rate of change, if any, linked to regional differences. In this way, it extends the research undertaken by the University of Exeter, by widening the scope in order to pinpoint the effect of the terrorist attacks starting with 9/11. Finally, it reviews the principal bodies responsible for the increase in anti-Muslim hate crime, and considers how widespread individual actions have become.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Allen, C. (2011) ‘Opposing Islamification or promoting Islamophobia? Understanding the English Defence League’, Patterns of Prejudice, Vol. 45(4), pp. 279-294.
  • Lambert, R. and Githens-Mazer, J. (2011) Islamophobia and anti-Muslim hate crime: UK case studies 2010. London: European Muslim Research Centre and the University of Exeter.

Example ethnicity and race dissertation topic 3:

Racist abuse towards international students: A case study comparison between the University of Oxford and Oxford Brookes University

Racism within higher education takes many forms; admissions, awarding of marks and student attitudes. Given this plethora of opportunities for racism to emerge, this dissertation asks as to the extent to which racism is institutionalised within the University of Oxford and in so doing, contrasts it with the experiences of students at Oxford Brookes University. This is a dissertation that not only combined qualitative and quantitative research but would also benefit from discussion of issues such as the inclusion agenda and widening participation.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Leathwood, L. and O’Connell, P. (2003) ‘It’s a struggle’: The construction of the ‘new student’ in higher education’, Journal of Education Policy Vol. 18, (6), pp. 597-615.
  • Spaights, E., Dixon, H.E., and Nickolai, S. (1985), ‘Racism in higher education’ College Student Journal, Vol. 19 (1), pp. 17 – 22.

Crime and Social Inequality

There is lots of research available on the correlation between crime and social status. If you are interested in exploring this further, you could complete a dissertation on the fascinating topic of crime and social inequality! Maybe these suggestions will help:

Example crime and social inequality dissertation topic 1:

Crimes targeted against the homeless: A reaction to social insecurity or mere brutality?

The brutal murder of a homeless man sleeping rough in the churchyards of Darlington, County Durham in early 2012 once more brought home the realities of life on the streets. This dissertation combines theoretical knowledge with interviews with those who live on the streets (and work with those who do) to provide a more holistic answer to the question posed. This is a cutting edge dissertation; the policy ramifications of which could be seen to have national implications for how society treats some of its most vulnerable members.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Gaetzl, S. (2004), ‘Safe streets for whom? Homeless youth, social exclusion, and criminal victimization’, Journal Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice Vol. 46 (4), pp. 423-456.
  • Sherman, L. W., Gartin, P. R. and Buerger, M. E. (1989), ‘Hot spots of predatory crime: Routine activities and the criminology of place’. Criminology, Vol. 27, pp. 27-56.

Example crime and social inequality dissertation topic 2:

Social acceptance of shop-lifting in deprived communities

The shop lifting of food as a phenomenon has increased exponentially over the last three years according to official figures. Such shoplifting is not however merely for the need of food for as local police reports indicate, incidences of the reports of sales of stolen meat upon housing estates in Doncaster have also increased as joints of meat and other ‘high value’ foodstuffs are increasingly being stolen ‘to order’. Looking at indices of deprivation studies and normative social values towards stolen goods, this dissertation offers an analysis of how normative views of shoplifting such produce are different amongst both different classes and different areas within the UK.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Avery, D.R., Mckay, P.F. and Hunter, E.M. (2012) ‘Demography and disappearing merchandise: How older workforces influence retail shrinkage’, Journal of Organizational Behaviour, Vol. 33, pp. 105-120.
  • Kroneberg, C., Heintze, I. and Mehlkop, G. (2010) ‘The interplay of moral norms and instrumental incentives in crime causation’, Criminology, Vol. 48, pp. 259-294.
  • Nell, D., Phillips, S., Alexander, A. and Shaw, G. (2011) ‘Helping yourself: Self-service grocery retailing and shoplifting in Britain, c. 1950-75′, Cultural and Social History, Vol. 8(3), pp. 371-391.

Activism and Riots

Activism and rioting has become a huge talking point over the past decade and lots of research has been conducted in this area. Due to this, this topic would make for a great dissertation. To narrow it down, we have provided some examples below:

Example activism and riot dissertation topic 1:

Animal activism – Does the end justify the means?

The desire to protect animals from lab experiments and associated perceptions of cruelty lead a substantial minority of activists within the wider animal protection sector to break the law. This dissertation looks at an array of case studies of such actions and asks, given the benefits that such experiments may lead to, whether achievement of the temporary halting of such experiments by animal extremists makes their actions a worthwhile crime. This dissertation considers the wider ramifications of animal activism, with particular emphasis on the increasing criminalisation of animal activism protest mechanisms, such as has occurred in the United States and Ireland.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Freeman, C.P. (2009) ‘A greater means to the greater good: Ethical guidelines to meet social movement organization advocacy challenges’, Journal of Mass Media Ethics: Exploring Questions of Media Morality, Vol. 24(4), pp. 269-288.
  • Yates, R. (2011) ‘Criminalizing protests about animal abuse. Recent Irish experience in global context’, Crime, Law and Social Change, Vol. 55(5), pp. 469-482.

Miscarriages of Justice

Maybe you are more interested in the justice system and the miscarriages of justice specifically. If so, please review the below suggestions and see if they help:

Example miscarriages of justice dissertation topic 1:

Punishment for defending one’s innocence: An examination of probation responses

Within the criminal justice process one has the right to appeal against conviction. However, if sentenced to a community order or other form of rehabilitation programme involving the probation service there is not only a presumption of guilt but also penalties for continuing to protest one’s innocence. These can include being put on a higher ‘at risk’ register involving more meetings with officers, and being taken back to court for re-sentence for ‘failing to co-operate’ (refusal to admit guilt being a refusal to co-operate). Using case studies form the greater Southampton area this is a dissertation that combines qualitative and quantitative research.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Hudson, B. (2001) ‘Human rights, public safety and the Probation Service: Defending justice in the risk society’, The Howard Journal of Criminal Justice, Vol. 40, pp. 103-113.
  • Nash, M. (1996) ‘Consumers without teeth: Can probation service “clients” have a say in the service they receive?’ International Journal of Public Sector Management, Vol. 9(4), pp.12-19.
  • Nellis, M. (2002) ‘Community justice, time and the new National Probation Service’, The Howard Journal of Criminal Justice, Vol. 41, pp. 59-86.

Police and Policing

Choosing to write a dissertation revolving around the police and policing can take many different forms. Whether you choose to write about police brutality or the representation of the police in the media, writing about the police can make for a fascinating. Take a look at some suggestions below:

Example police and policing dissertation topic 1:

Public perceptions of the role of the Police Community Support Officer

Having firstly contextualised the historic development of PCSOs and the functions that they have been empowered to enact, this dissertation uses two cases studies: Billy, a PCSO in the City of York, and Dan a PCSO in Co. Durham. Having addressed issues relating to ethics and confidentiality this dissertation not only interviews the two officers with reference to their longer-term career aspirations but also their colleagues and members of the public. Through so doing, a range of different views as to the usefulness and purpose of PCSOs is identified along with the need to re-educate the public’s view of their work as well as offering further career professional development. This is a dissertation that combines an array of different research methodologies and thus offers an (at times bleak) evaluation of the role and expectations of PCSOs amongst themselves, their colleagues and the public.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Caless, B. (2007) ‘Numties in yellow jackets′: The nature of hostility towards the Police Community Support Officer in neighbourhood policing teams’, Policing, Vol. 1(2), pp. 187-195.
  • Merritt, J. (2010) ‘W(h)ither the PCSO?: Police perceptions of the Police Community Support Officer’s role, powers and future directions’, Policing: An International Journal of Police Strategies & Management, Vol. 33(4), pp.731-749.
  • Pamment, N. (2009) ‘We can terrorise them! Young offender perceptions of Police Community Support Officers’, The Police Journal, Vol. 82(2). pp. 171-182.
  • Rowell, P. (2010) Assessing the literacy of PCSOs: Have the NPIA and MPS aligned the standard to operational requirements? MSc dissertation, University of Portsmouth.

Example police and policing dissertation topic 2:

Police pre-conceptions: Attributions of blame to male rape victims by the police

Although training programmes have attempted to ensure that police officers do not attribute blame to rape victims, concerns remain that some police are resistant to such programmes. This dissertation considers whether attribution of blame to rape victims continues to be a widespread problem, and whether factors such as the age or gender of the victim play a significant part. One example of discrimination may be levelled against male adolescent sex workers, as a case study in Glasgow demonstrates. The study considers both existing literature as well as primary research through three case studies in Glasgow, and a survey of 100 police officers (CID and uniformed) in the Strathclyde Police Force.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Davies, M., Austen, K. and Rogers, P. (2011) ‘Sexual preference, gender, and blame attributions in adolescent sexual assault’, Journal of Social Psychology, Vol. 151(5), pp. 592-607.
  • Wakelin, A. and Long, K.M. (2003) ‘Effects of victim gender and sexuality on attributions of blame to rape victims’ Sex Roles, Vol. 49(9-10), pp. 477-487.
  • Whatley, M.A. and Riggio, R.E. (1993) ‘Gender differences in attributions of blame for male rape victims’, Journal of Interpersonal Violence, Vol. 8(4), pp. 502-511.

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