Leeds Historical Criminology seminar series: history and criminal justice policy

This exciting new venture aims to showcase research that uses historical perspectives to enrich understandings of crime, criminal justice and related issues in the present as well as the past.

It will provide a new platform from which academics, students, practitioners and others can engage with the latest relevant research from across a range of academic disciplines. In doing so, the seminar series aims to build linkages across academic disciplines and advance shared appreciations of how historical research can transform our understandings of crime and social responses to crime in the present.

The first event in the series will take place on January 24 2018 at the School of Law, University of Leeds. The event will be themed around ‘History and Criminal Justice Policy’ and will feature four extended presentations that address some aspect of this theme. We are delighted that four innovative and highly regarded researchers, drawn from criminology and history, have agreed to speak. Professor Paul Rock, Professor Louise Jackson, Dr Rosalind Crone and Dr Mark Roodhouse will all give extended presentations and invite discussion of their research findings. Lunch will also be provided for all delegates. A schedule, plus titles and abstracts of presentations, is included below. 

The seminar series is organised by Dr David Churchill, Professor Heather Shore and Dr Henry Yeomans and is hosted jointly by the University of Leeds and Leeds Beckett University. The inaugural event has been kindly supported by the Centre for Criminal Justice Studies (University of Leeds).


10:45 Introduction/Welcome

11:00  Professor Paul Rock (London School of Economics). ‘The Official History of Criminal Justice’.

12:00 Professor Louise Jackson (University of Edinburgh). ‘Legal, Social and Political Responses to Child Sexual Abuse: The Role of Historians in Assessing Past and Present’.

13:00 Lunch

14:00 Dr Rosalind Crone (The Open University). ‘The Use and Abuse of Prisoner Literacy Statistics’.

15:00 Dr Mark Roodhouse (University of York). ‘International Joint Ventures in Organised Crime: Foreign Mafiosi and London Casinos, 1960-1979’

16:00 Close. 


Professor Paul Rock (London School of Economics)

‘The Official History of Criminal Justice’


David Downes, Tim Newburn and I were commissioned in April 2009 to write the official history of criminal justice, the final such history in a long line.  I shall briefly discuss the genesis and history of the official history programme; the birth and development of our own contribution to it; focusing on the obstacles and opportunities we encountered as we gave shape to what has proved to be something of an elephantine task; and the homespun methodology I adopted to work on the liberalising legislation of the 1960s and the establishment of the Crown Court and Crown Prosecution Service.  

Professor Louise Jackson (University of Edinburgh)

‘Legal, Social and Political Responses to Child Sexual Abuse: The Role of Historians in Assessing Past and Present’


Since around 2000, allegations relating to child sexual abuse in institutional and other settings have led to the appointment of a proliferation of public inquiries. In the Republic of Ireland, Australia, the Netherlands and the Nordic countries, historians have been centrally involved in this work, either through commissioned research or their appointment as panel members. Whilst this approach has not been used in England and Wales, what might historians, nevertheless, contribute to the public agenda? This paper will reflect on the methodological issues that this question raises, and will draw on collaborative research undertaken as part of an ESRC-funded project that has mapped and analysed social, legal and political responses to what we now call child sexual abuse since the 1920s.

Dr Rosalind Crone (The Open University)

‘The Use and Abuse of Prisoner Literacy Statistics’


Rates of illiteracy remain stubbornly high among men and women confined in British prisons today. According to an oft-cited 2005 House of Commons Education and Skills Committee report on prison education, 50% of male and female prisoners had reading skills, 66% had numeracy skills and 82% had writing skills at or below that expected of an 11 year old, while 52% or male and 71% of female prisoners had no qualifications compared with 15% of the general population. On the basis of this evidence, policymakers remain convinced of the necessity of programmes within prisons which address the educational deficiencies of prisoners. Less clear, however, is the extent to which such evidence should inform the development of prison education programmes, and how these programmes should relate to the broad and often conflicting aims of imprisonment.

This paper provides a fresh perspective on the interpretation and use of prisoner literacy statistics by returning to the moment of their conception in the 1820s. It shows how data that emerged as a functional consequence of the expansion of prison education programmes was transformed into a national obsession. As officials wrestled with their meaning, various schemas were introduced that drew new dividing lines between the ignorant and civilised in society. Although dissenting voices somewhat suspended the debate on the nature of the relationship between education and crime, the very presence of the data, combined with the need to assess and measure, promoted the cause of prison education while substantially limiting its potential.

Dr Mark Roodhouse (University of York)

‘International Joint Ventures in Organised Crime: Foreign Mafiosi and London Casinos, 1960-1979’


Reviewing sixteen years of gambling reform in 1976, the Royal Commission on Gambling credited the Gaming Board of Great Britain with successfully repelling American mafiosi's attempts to turn London's West End into a European Las Vegas. This well-documented campaign provides the evidence for a study of American organised crime groups’ overseas investment strategies. It shows how overlapping partnerships, which had served US bootleggers and gamblers well, remained their preferred method when entering new overseas markets. Bringing British and American entrepreneurs together, these international joint ventures in organised crime pooled risk and shared expertise. They bore little resemblance to the hierarchical vision of La Cosa Nostra then popular with criminologists and law-and-order bureaucrats alike. This finding supports the work of historical criminologist Mark Haller on US gambling, and shows it applicability to international and transnational organised crime. Ultimately, American criminals failed to break into the British gambling scene. The regulatory environment which their presence gave rise to was a hostile one. And the regulators proved resistant to their attempts at regulatory capture. Foreign criminals reduced their stake in the British gaming industry, moving to promising new markets in continental Europe.

Location details

Room G.32
School of Law
Liberty Building
University of Leeds

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