Welcome to my blog

I thought this would be a great way to tell everyone about the many interesting things that I do in my professional life as a researcher, writer and educator. At the moment, my interest is mainly focused on policing and more specifically on police custody i.e. where people are taken on arrest whilst a decision is reached about charge. Watch this space for updates on my whirlwind academic life.

About Me

My photo
Layla Skinns is a Senior Lecturer in criminology in the Centre for Criminological Research at the School of Law, University of Sheffield. Before joining the Centre for Criminological Research, Layla worked at the University of Cambridge, where she was the Adrian Socio-Legal Research Fellow at Darwin College and a Teaching Associate on the MSt. in Applied Criminology for senior police, prison and probation staff. Whilst working as a Research Fellow at Darwin College, she co-organised the prestigious Darwin College Lecture Series on the theme of risk. Her qualifications are: MA (Hons) Sociology and Psychology, University of Edinburgh, 2000; MPhil Criminological Research, University of Cambridge, 2001 and PhD Criminology, University of Cambridge, 2005

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

One small step closer ...

In my last post, I mentioned about how it feels like a life-time's work to try to get to grips with policing in other jurisdictions. Well, over the last few days I have been taking a few more mini steps towards this whole life-time of work, or at least I hope so. I have been rather avidly reading about the history of policing in France, England, Ireland, America and Australia. Whilst there is much that they share, there are many differences (sometimes subtle and sometimes not) which are difficult to explain.

For instance, why is that the police in the U.S. routinely carry firearms, whilst the police in England do not? [By the way, the police officers that I researched in America found this fact astounding]. On the one hand, one might point to the American constitution and argue that the right to bear arms has long been a fundamental part of American society. However, I was rather persuaded by Jean-Paul Brodeur's rather more nuanced answer to this question in his brilliant new book 'The policing web'. He argues that, in England, the ruling class had to be cautious in their recourse to coercion, as the 'ruled' population in the nineteenth century was relatively large compared to that of the rulers. This necessitated a kind of "quiet coercion" in which the police sought to rule by consent and without carrying firearms. By contrast, in America, those regarded as being in need of the most social control were the latest wave of immigrants and these groups were far from being in a majority in American society. Hence, Brodeur says, "there was no need to placate them, and force was used without much restraint; the police could be confidently violent, knowing that they always had the majority on their side" (2010: 72).

I am hoping that what is going to be great about my new module on police and policing in a global context is that it forces you to look outside the practicalities of policing and consider the wider social and historical context in which they take place. As this small example shows, police practices of the present are well and truly embedded in societies of the past.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

My forthcoming talk in Sheffield

Speaker:  Dr Layla Skinns, Lecturer in Criminology, Centre for
Criminological Research, University of Sheffield
Title:  Plural Policing and the Police Custody Process in England and Wales
Place:  The Moot Court, School of Law, Winter Street, Sheffield S3 7ND

Time:  5.15pm


For the last decade, the police custody process has been a neglected  area of scholarly research in England and Wales. Yet, the context of police custody has changed. Civilianization is giving way to privatization, meaning that there are a growing number of non-warranted civilians employed either by the police or private security companies to perform key tasks in the police custody process. In this talk, I draw on my recent mixed-method research in two police custody areas, one predominantly publicly-run and one predominantly privately-run. In particular, I examine the meaning of plural policing in these two sites, considering things like roles and responsibilities of police and police staff, the use of force, suspect perceptions of police staff compared to the police, as well as accountability mechanisms. One of the key conclusions is that police and civilian police staff use their authority differently, with police staff adopting a more procedurally just style of policing, whilst the police rely on more coercive strategies.

And if this is not enough to tempt to you to come along there will be mince pies and wine afterwards.

Friday, 3 December 2010

Faculty Fellowship Award

Wow. I found out yesterday that I've been given a Faculty Fellowship Award from the University of Sheffield. This will cut down my teaching hours next semester and give me more time to work on my research and on forthcoming projects. This is very exciting news indeed. I am delighted! From what I gather the competition was fairly stiff.

In spite of the award, I am pleased to say that I shall still be running my new optional undergraduate module on police and policing in a global context. I'm just reading David Nelken's new book on 'Comparative Criminal Justice', for the first of these lectures. I have found it to resonate a great deal with my own experience of doing comparative research. Such research is hugely challenging and these challenges cannot be under-estimated. To fully understand policing in the other common-law jurisdictions that I looked at (namely, Australia, America and Ireland) one needs to fully grasp the wider cultural and socio-political context in which is takes place. This is probably a whole life-times work or at least it seems that way.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Oh yes, one last thing ..

I've been invited to give a seminar in my department. It will be part of the regular public seminar series held by the Centre for Criminological Research, School of Law, University of Sheffield (see the link below). I shall be talking about aspects of my forthcoming book. I haven't decided exactly what I will be talking about yet, but it will probably be about plural policing and police custody. Watch this space for further details.


Show me the way to San Francisco

What a momentous week ....

My first draft of the report for the Howard League is complete (** big sigh of relief **). I think it makes for some interesting reading. A larger proportion of juvenile suspects are detained overnight in the police station than you might expect. One of the main drivers for this seems to be difficulties with the referral process between police custody and local authority accommodation. Another interesting and probably little known fact is that in police custody 17 year olds are treated as adults, unlike in the rest of the criminal justice process where 17 year olds are treated as juveniles. Anyway, watch this space for further details of this publication. It will probably be out in January 2011.

My book on police custody is finally and definitely going to press. I've also submitted a report of my key findings on police custody in common-law jurisdictions to my funders, the British Academy.

In addition, I have submitted a co-edited book manuscript to Cambridge University Press. This book is a collection of essays taken from the Darwin College Lecture series, which I co-organised in 2010 on the theme of 'risk'. Here's the blurb for the book:

"Recent events from the economic down-turn to climate change mean that there has never been a better time to be thinking about and trying to better understand the concept of risk. In this book, prominent and eminent speakers from fields as diverse as statistics to classics, neuroscience to criminology, politics to astronomy, as well as speakers embedded in the media and in government have put their ideas down on paper in a series of essays that broaden our understanding of the meaning of risk. The essays come from the prestigious Darwin College Lecture Series which, after twenty-five years, are one of the most popular public lecture series at the University of Cambridge. The risk lectures in 2010 were amongst the most popular yet and, in essay form, they make for a lively and engaging read for specialists and non-specialists alike."

(Skinns, L., Scott, M. and Cox, T. (eds) (2011) Risk. Cambridge: CUP.)

And now, lucky me, I am heading to San Francisco to the American Society of Criminology conference. I'm giving a paper called 'Police custody in common-law jurisdictions: some early findings from a comparative study'. Here's the abstract:

Police custody acts as a bridge between the police, courts and prison and also, therefore, as a gateway to the criminal justice process. In spite of its importance, it has been a neglected area of scholarly interest with little recent research being conducted on it in England or in other common-law jurisdictions. Based on a recently completed qualitative exploratory and comparative study of England, Ireland and jurisdictions in Australia and the United States, this paper provides unique insights into key features of the police custody process. This includes important issues, such as the right to silence, access to legal advice in the police station, the tape-recording of interviews, record-keeping and the length of detention. The paper will also examine the implications for theories about due process and crime control. One of the conclusions from the research so far is that in the American jurisdiction, there was less clarity and certainty, compared to the three other jurisdictions, about how suspects should be treated in police custody, which was also suggestive of their being fewer procedural safeguards and a greater emphasis on crime control.

I'm also really looking forward to seeing San Francisco. As a criminologist, a trip to Alcatraz is a must, but the thought of clam chowder in the bay area also sounds awesome, not to mention the golden gate bridge and a few art galleries along the way. Having recently seen the film 'Milk' about the gay rights campaigner Harvey Milk, I was inspired to stay in the Castro. I'm guessing it will look a bit different to the grainy black and white images in the movie!

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Public lecture over, now for some feverish writing

On Monday I gave a lecture on legal advice in the police station, which was hosted by the Centre for Criminal Law, UCL. I was presenting alongside researchers from the Legal Services Research Centre. There were over 100 people there and lots of interesting and engaging questions at the end on many different things like civilianisation and privatisation of police custody areas (yes, this has happened - see chapter six of my forthcoming book on police custody); the role of appropriate adults; the impact of the recent Cadder case in the European Court of Human Rights concerned with legal advice in the police in Scotland (where hitherto suspects did not have a right to consult with a legal adviser prior to interview - see link below); the impact of legal advice on suspect admissions of guilt. My only lament about the lecture was that the audience seemed to be comprised primarily of lawyers. It would have been really useful to have had a police perspective on things.

Now, my attention is firmly focused on the report I am writing for the Howard League about the overnight detention of juveniles in police custody. Here is an interesting quote from an inspection report jointly produced by Her Majesties Inspectorate of Constabularies and Her Majesties Inspectorate of Prisons about a police custody facilities in the Basic Command Unit of Wandsworth which is part of the Metropolitan Police Service:

We had concerns about the welfare of three children detained at Wandsworth during the inspection, aged 13, 14 and 16. They spent a considerable amount of time waiting outside in the yard before being booked in: up to two hours and 35 minutes after arrival. The children were held in custody overnight and did not speak to their parents until the next morning, pending the completion of a search of their family homes. The mothers of two of the children acted as their AA [appropriate adult] the following day but there were significant delays in calling a volunteer AA [appropriate adult] in the third case. The 16-year-old was released at midday the following day but the two younger children were interviewed almost 24 hours after their arrest and subsequently refused bail, and were then held for a second night, to be taken to court the following morning. Contact was made with the local authority out-of-hours service, to notify them that these children had been refused bail and therefore been remanded into the care of the local authority. However, no representative from the local authority attended and no accommodation was offered. Custody staff told us that they could not recall an occasion when local authority accommodation had been provided for juveniles in this situation (HMIC/HMIP, 2010c: para 5.13).

Whilst this example from Wandsworth is useful for illustrating some of the circumstances in which children and juveniles are detained overnight in the police station, it tells us little about how often this happens and whether or not the overnight detention of children and juveniles is routine. I tackle all of these issues in my forthcoming report, which is due for publication in January.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Cambridge is great for talks by brilliant speakers

I have had the pleasure of going to two amazing talks this week. The first was given by sociogist, Professor Loic Wacquant on 'race and the penal system'. At the start, he said the lecture would be like a 'trapeze', which it was. Nonetheless there were some great nuggets in there.

The second was given by Sir Professor Antony Bottoms and Dr Justice Tankebe on 'Understanding Legitimacy: A Dialogic Relationship within Institutional Normative Order'. The abstract for this is below. The theory that they outlined really moves the debate about police legitimacy forward, by helping us to think about police legitimacy as a process and as something that changes over time.

I only wish I had the time to go to a third and a fourth lecture today, which are to be given by Professor Manuel Castells on (a) The Multidimensional Crisis of Informational Capitalism (b) Alternative Economic Cultures in a Context of Crisis

However, I actually have rather a lot of work to do. My main focus this week has been on my research on the overnight detention of juveniles in police custody, although with a few other bits and pieces being done simultaneously.

That the idea of legitimacy has become a key topic in criminal justice research is beyond question. Yet claims by criminal justice agencies and citizens’ responses to those claims. We legitimacy remains under-theorised. Our aim in this seminar is to try to correct this lacuna in legitimacy research within criminology. We argue, developing an insight by Max Weber, that legitimacy is dialogic, involving continuous  further argue that the tension/conflict/consensus inherent in this claim–response dialogue reflects congruities and incongruities between law and morality in any ‘institutional normative order’ (an important concept developed by Neil MacCormick). It is argued that such an understanding of legitimacy moves attention quickly beyond its implications for legal compliance and cooperation with legal authorities (the principal focus of criminologists at present); instead, attention begins also to focus on the implications of legitimacy for the understanding of stability and change in criminal justice organizations, and their role within wider society.

Monday, 18 October 2010

New research - The detention of juveniles overnight in police custody

Another bit of exciting news is that I've recently been commissioned by the Howard League to write a report looking at the overnight detention of juveniles in police custody.


My first book

I'm rather delighted to announce the publication of my first book on 7 December 2010. The book will be launched in conjunction with a report I am writing for the Howard League for Penal Reform. All exciting stuff.


Legal aid budget to face the axe


Forthcoming talks

I will be talking at the Centre for Criminal Law at University College London on 1 November 2010 on 'Legal advice in the police station: past, present and future'.

What better time to be talking about this given the impending cuts to the legal aid budget? Do come along if you can.