Shona Minson

Shona MinsonPlease tell us a bit about your background.

I'm from Belfast, where I went to a girls' grammar school and at 18 I left Northern Ireland to come to Oxford to study law at St.Annes. After univerisI went to Bar School in London, qualifying as a barrister. I worked in family and criminal law until I had my first child when it became clear that due to unpredictable working patterns, motherhood and continuing at the Bar were incompatible if one had neither significant finance nor family help with childcare (thankfully things have changed and women are able to take maternity leave and keep working after they have children).  When my youngest started nursery I did a p/t MSc at the University of Surrey, before doing my DPhil at the Centre for Criminology. I’m married with three children - two at university and one in secondary school. Last summer we moved to live on the family farm in the Cotswolds so I'm adapting to rural life and farm work!  

What led you to a career in academia? 

After leaving the Bar I worked as a family mediator, Barristers' Chambers' audit consultant, for an online bookshop, and at Citizen's Advice Bureau. When my youngest approached school age I looked for a family compatible career. I was interested in criminal justice advocacy but needed a better understanding of research methods. I was fascinated by criminology when I studied it as an undergraduate (Roger Hood gave the lectures) so I thought a part time MSc in Criminology, Criminal Justice and Social Research Methods would be enjoyable and set me up for the job I thought I wanted to do. Whilst doing the MSc I discovered that I loved research and when I found a topic that no one had looked at I realised that I might just have to do a PhD. I was fortunate to be offered a place and ESRC funding at the Centre for Criminology, and I've never looked back!  

What are your research interests and why have you chosen those particular areas?  

I'm interested in the intersection between crime and families, in particular the rights of children whose parents are in conflict with the law. My background as a criminal and family barrister made this an obvious space for me to explore. The criminal justice system operates on an individual basis and doesn't consider wider impacts and harms so there is plenty of work to do. I researched the impact of maternal imprisonment on children and the weight given to dependent children in judicial sentencing decisions. I'm keen to see research impact policy and practice so I try to connect with criminal justice professionals and policy makers to ensure that they have access to research findings when doing their jobs or deciding on policy. I'm also part of advisory boards for organisations doing more applied research within the sector which gives the opportunity to have a wider impact than my own work. 

What are you working on at the moment?  

I'm a British academy post doc and in March 2020 I was working with a Child and Young Person's Advisory Group to develop the methodology for a study looking at the re-integration of families after parental release from prison. My research is child centric so unfortunately covid-19 prevented that direct research with children from taking place. I therefore spent much of 2020 doing covid-19 responsive work, firstly on the risk to pregnant women and babies of imprisonment during pandemic, and then on the impacts of prison lockdowns on children whose parent was in prison. I'm currently writing that work up and hope that later this year I'll move to a re-shaped study on the impacts on children of parental release.  

 What is your favourite thing to do in your spare time? 

I swim regularly and the closure of indoor pools made me search out alternatives, so from May until the November lockdown I've enjoyed swimming in lakes two or three times each week. I love cycling but am absolutely not a runner so there are no triathlons in my future. I'm very keen on food - eating it and making it. During the first lockdown when 5 of us were working / studying from home we instituted daily 'Cake at 4' to ensure there was something good in the day, so I've eaten a lot of cake this past year. 

Who inspires you or has inspired you in the past?  

I'm inspired by brave and courageous women and girls. Whether well-known figures from the past or the present, or people I have the good fortune to meet myself, I really admire women who step up and do the hard things, even when it confounds or disrupts societies' expectations.  

What charity do you support and why? 

I support a number of charities,  the most local being Children Heard and Seen which started in Oxford. They provide support to children whose parents are in prison. These children are very much on the margins of society so it's great to support an organisation that tells them they have value. I currently mentor a 15 year old girl and we meet up weekly. The charity are always looking for volunteer mentors so if anyone's interested, I'd be happy to tell you more! I'm also very proud to be a trustee of the newly established 'Not Beyond Redemption' whose aim is to provide free family law advice to all women in prison in order to support the continuation and re-establishment of mother/ child relationships.  

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