As 2016 draws to a close, Oxford Criminology reflects on a busy and successful year during which we celebrated our 50th Anniversary and moved buildings to sit alongside our colleagues in the wider law faculty. While this year we have been celebrating our past we have also been looking ahead.  As we have written before, these are uncertain times, and ones when rigorous, empirical and theoretically informed research is ever more urgently needed.

Research Student area in new Centre for Criminology, St Cross Building.

Photo: Mary Bosworth

2016 started with our first Anniversary lecture, given by Paul Rock, David Downes and Tim Newburn on ‘Criminology and Criminal Justice in 1966’, the year the Penal Research Unit (that was to become the Oxford Centre for Criminology) was founded by the late Nigel Walker. In 1973 Roger Hood assumed the directorship, swiftly renaming it the Centre for Criminological Research to reflect the broader range of interests and research activities of its members.

Today, we inhabit a different criminological landscape from the one that generated the Penal Research Unit. These days, people can be imprisoned in their homes and detained for crimes not yet committed. Probation has been bifurcated, and far-reaching cuts within the criminal justice system and to the legal aid budget threaten the efficacy of the system and the due process protections of those who are subject to state powers.  

We also conduct our research and teaching in a different environment.  Crimes and social policies beyond our borders affect how we envisage our powers and deliver justice, while some politicians and the media seem to wish to do away with the protection of a human rights framework, particularly for those born elsewhere.

In these uncertain times, creative and collaborative responses to criminal justice are ever more urgently needed to challenge the intolerance of the emerging status quo. Oxford researchers at all levels work productively with politicians, policy makers and practitioners to use our research to inform the delivery of a fair justice system in an age of austerity; and to consider how criminal justice is influenced by concerns about security and how these concerns may threaten our rights.

These days we locate our scholarship in a rapidly globalizing world that poses challenges for us all, in ways the first Oxford criminologists could not have imagined. At the same time, familiar issues remain.  The Oxford Centre continues its focus on the prison and now too on other sites of detention, while we continue to produce scholarship on racial and ethnic disparities, on sentencing and on the death penalty.

Today, we have almost 3 times as many Masters students as when our programme launched in 2001. In addition to them, we supervise 28 doctoral students, many of whom work alongside us in our Centre. That many students could not have been accommodated in the Centre’s original home in Bevington Road, and so in early 2004 we moved into the new ‘Manor Road’ social sciences building and changed our name to the Centre for Criminology, to reflect the increasing focus on criminological teaching as well as research. That location, which was always meant to be temporary, lasted 12 years. It was always the intention that Criminology be housed inside the St Cross building and in September 2015 ‘Part 2’ of an ambitious building project began to create room for Criminology. Just 15 months later, as 2016 draws to a close, we have moved into our new space. There remain a few men in fluorescent jackets and hard hats, carrying tool boxes, and we’ve not quite finished unpacking our crates or finding space for our pot plants, but our new space in this rather strange looking listed building is already looking great.

It is fitting that our last event of the year saw the launch of an edited collection to map the Changing Contours of Criminal Justice and to celebrate 50 years of Oxford Criminology. Contributors – Oxford Criminology faculty and students, past and present - map the shifts in scope, dominant concerns, values, and aims of criminal justice over the decades that Oxford Criminology has been producing research and teaching students from around the world. Although the rapidity and radical nature of change make it quite impossible to predict what criminal justice will look like in fifty years’ time, reflection on its changing contours furnishes a better understanding of how it arrived at its current form and may also hint at what the future holds. Whatever that might be we hope that Oxford Criminology continues to play an important part in shaping a future that we can feel proud of.

At the end of a year that saw Britain voting to leave the EU and the US voting for a President who refuses to embrace the values of tolerance and diversity, Oxford Criminology has reaffirmed its commitment to global justice in launching a Global Criminal Justice Hub and an affiliated fundraising campaign. In so doing, we hope to work in close relationship with international experts from the academy, NGOs, policy-making institutions, and civil society organizations, on research, knowledge-exchange and dissemination. While developing better relations with colleagues in the Global South, we will also collaborate with those within our own institution, including the new Bonavero Institute of Human Rights, with Oxford Transitional Justice Research, Border Criminologies, and the Oxford Human Rights Hub.  We still need funding to fulfill our goal, yet by establishing it during our anniversary year we hope to send a clear message of our intellectual, creative and policy intentions, for inclusivity and cooperation across borders.