Criminal Justice beyond the borders

On this important referendum day, when some believe that we can and should distance ourselves from our political and geographical neighbours, the Centre for Criminology reports on the recent launch of its Global Criminal Justice Research Hub.

Criminology and criminal justice, have, until recently primarily been conceived of as local, or at least national, in their bent.  There is a reason for this geographical focus; criminal law, for the most part, is bounded by national territory. Yet, as all parts of our lives are increasingly shaped by mass migration and globalisation, from the food we eat, to the people who live on our street, our finances, our friends, what we read, where we travel, there is no reason to imagine that criminal justice would be unaffected.

Many of the issues that researchers in the Centre for Criminology grapple with play out across the world in a variety of ways with sometimes very different consequences and even decisions made locally have a global reach and impact, with decisions and events elsewhere affecting how we understand quite basic principles of justice, crime and punishment here in the UK and in Europe.

Global Criminal Justice in Oxford

The Centre for Criminology in Oxford has a strong tradition of examining global criminal justice. Known for our pioneering work on punishment, victims, policing, the death penalty, security, and border control, we have rarely been limited to one jurisdiction. Not only are some crimes, like terrorism, cybercrime, trafficking, or drug offences global, but criminal justice agents and institutions increasingly operate across borders or have an impact far away. Criminal justice, under these circumstances, has not only expanded but changed its effect and, at least in part, its justification.

Roger Hood set many of the foundations of our focus on global matters in his work on the death penalty. That research which continues with Carolyn Hoyle, is complemented by a variety of other scholarship and research on global policing, sex trafficking, counter-terrorism and other topics that necessarily attend to global matters and their impact on local practices.

We are fortunate in Oxford to attract some of the best students from around the world.  They arrive with expertise and interest in their own countries, often using their time here to develop research about where they came from.  Sometimes they deliberately concentrate on local, British practices, to take home new ideas to India, China, Columbia, Brazil, Mexico, Singapore, the US and many other countries.

The Centre hosts the Oxford Transitional Justice research group. Created in 2007, OTJR is an inter-disciplinary network of academics and students working on issues of transition in societies recovering from conflict and/or repressive rule.

My own area of research examines the growing interconnections between criminal justice and immigration control. Working with a number of postdoctoral researchers and DPhil students I have established an international research network called Border Criminologies, which has given its name to a new subfield in the discipline directly concerned with mapping the shifting terrain of criminal justice in a global world.

Border criminologists build on scholarship about criminal law, policing, courts, and punishment, to focus on how states around the world have put the criminal justice system to work in managing mass mobility.  In discussions of legal changes that criminalise immigration violations, new policing responsibilities at the border and within, and the changing numbers and treatment of foreign nationals in prison, border criminology reveals how the criminal justice system has been systematically reoriented around matters of citizenship.  At the same time, our research makes clear that familiar problems remain.  The primary targets of intervention in border control and the criminal justice system are economically precarious, racialised, ethnic minority men.  New criminal justice powers and responsibilities have not, in other words, entirely replaced older tasks and justifications, but rather intersect, inform and are shaped by them.

The Global Criminal Justice Hub

On June 4, at a Conference on Criminal Justice held here in Oxford, we launched a global criminal justice hub. It was an aspirational ‘launch’. We have all the elements in place, from our institution’s lengthy academic traditions to its current focus. What we do not yet have is the funding to realise our ambitious goals.

We want the Hub to promote understanding of, and dialogue about, criminal justice responses to crimes around the world, including cybercrime; trafficking in persons; justice responses to migrants and asylum seekers; conflicts, aggression, and war crimes; law enforcement in developing democracies; and the use of judicial and non-judicial executions around the world. Faculty and students in the Hub would be encouraged to work alongside or in close relationship with international experts from the academy, NGOs, policy-making institutions, and civil society organisations, in research projects, knowledge-exchange, and dissemination. We hope to secure funding for partnership-building, a new lectureship, and studentships, especially for those from backgrounds and countries that we currently under-recruit from, people who would not be able to study with us without financial support.

Once we have secured adequate funding for this ambitious venture, we will use this blog to promote our work and disseminate our research to the wider world, with the hope that our work will benefit people across all continents. Justice and, more importantly, injustice is a global matter.  Moving outside the nation state illuminates how many important principles and practices are shifting.  These developments raise urgent questions about equality and fairness that are both novel, and familiar.  We urge you to read about our campaign and welcome anyone who feels that they can help us to realise our goals. If you would like to support the Campaign, please visit the Faculty’s online donation page and select ‘Centre for Criminology 50th Anniversary’ from the designation list. If you would like to read more about the Campaign and the Global Criminal Justice Research Hub please download the funding proposal.