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.

Research groups

We're promoting research and scholarship that have the transformative potential for the practice of criminal and social justice.

Interested in a PhD in Criminology?

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