Shona Minson wins Vice-Chancellor’s Public Engagement with Research Award: safeguarding children when sentencing mothers

Dr Shona Minson of the Centre for Criminology has won a Vice-Chancellor’s Public Engagement with Research Award for her outstanding research and work into the sentencing of mothers with dependent children.

The announcement was made at an awards ceremony at Keble College, Oxford, on 10 July hosted by Vice-Chancellor Professor Louise Richardson. Dr Minson was recognised in the Early Career Researcher Awards category.

“My DPhil analysed the rights of children in adult sentencing decisions in England and Wales where 17,000 children annually are separated from their mother when she is imprisoned, often not even asking if she has a child. I contrasted this situation with that in family court proceedings where the child’s best interests are the ‘paramount consideration’.

“It was the first study to engage directly with children whose mothers were in prison and with the Judiciary. The primary findings show that these children suffer negatively, experiencing a range of disadvantages to their health, education and wellbeing.” says Dr Minson.

Four films were developed by Dr Minson for use by sentencers, probation staff, advocates and women facing sentencing. By involving stakeholders from the outset she ensured the films suited the audiences for which they were designed. This included a film for women facing sentencing to give support to those representing themselves in court.

Dr Minson has also contributed to national debate on this issue through interviews on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour and BBC Five Live’s Afternoon Show reaching millions of listeners. She also set up a website to share resources: and has been very active on social media to engage people affected by these issues.

“By collaborating with so many different groups, my research has been significantly enhanced and enabled me to make a demonstrable contribution with and for society.” Says Shona.

Her research and engagement activities are changing sentencing behaviour and safeguarding children’s welfare. The latest National Probation Service guidance, based on her research, advises Probation Officers to seek an adjournment for a Pre-Sentence Report to be prepared for the court, where defendants are sole or primary carers for dependent children.

“Following my submission to the All-Parliamentary Penal Affairs Group, it identified ‘Failure to regard children’s rights frameworks’ as one of three factors driving the continued imprisonment of women. It’s the first time children’s rights have been mentioned with reference to sentencing policy.

Her work has reframed the debate around children impacted by maternal imprisonment as one about human rights and the state’s duties to safeguard children.

The Judicial College said:

Shona’s work has been extremely useful to judges and recorders. She’s very good at reminding us not only of our legal duties but also setting out practical consequences when a parent is sent into custody.

Professor Alison Woollard, Academic Champion for Public Engagement with Research, University of Oxford says:
“These awards highlight the many ways that Oxford’s researchers engage with the public. This includes informing and empowering people by sharing research findings; working in partnership with communities to shape research and enabling citizens to take part in the research by collecting and analysing data through Citizen Science. These winning projects also demonstrate that excellence in engagement results in a ‘win-win’ for both researchers and publics alike.”

About the awards

The Vice-Chancellor's Public Engagement with Research Awards recognise and reward those at the University who undertake high-quality engagement activities and have contributed to building capacity in this area. The awards have three categories – Early Career Researcher, Building Capacity and Projects. Entrants can be at any level in their career and activities of any scale are welcome.

Winning entries receive recognition for their achievements at the Vice-Chancellor's Public Engagement with Research Awards Ceremony that will take place on 10 July 2019.The Vice-Chancellor’s prize will also be announced at the ceremony and the winner will receive a cash prize of £1,500.