England and Wales now imprisons a greater proportion of its population than any other country in Western Europe, the population in custody having doubled in 12 years. Yet the prison population continues to grow.
The criminal justice system more generally, including probation and policing, have been subject to dramatic change over recent decades that have raised fundamental questions including the appropriate role of the state and the private sector in criminal justice, the role of public opinion as a driver of criminal justice policy and the underlying policy factors that have led to the present situation.
The importance of this policy area is illustrated by the high-profile 'crises' and 'scandals' that regularly erupt in the media, including issues relating to prisoner votes, the release of indeterminately-sentenced prisoners, and the failings of private companies to deliver criminal justice services.
This module seeks to cast a spotlight on this troublesome area of law and public policy. It draws upon literature from law, criminology, history, political science and some comparative material to ask where our contemporary penal policy comes from and to speculate on possible futures.