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

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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

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Conference update

I promised an update about how my conferences went, so here it is! The British Society of Criminology Conference (BSC), Northumbria University, Newcastle was a really enjoyable event, not least because there were many interesting policing panels included in the conference programme, as well as the first meeting of the newly established BSC Policing Network. The conference began with Professor Robert Reiner being presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award with many deservedly kind words being said about him. One such comment was that he knows a good thing when he sees it, which filled me with trepidation about what he might say as one of the ‘critics’ of my book. I need not have worried …well, not too much! He and the two other ‘critics’ in my ‘author meets critics panel – Professor David Dixon and Dr Megan O’Neill - were thoughtful and considered, yet probing in their comments.

In sum, the book was described as making “a significant contribution to the field”, particularly in terms of its insightfulness in the comparisons drawn between police custody and prisons. It was also described as “theoretically sophisticated” and that the drawing together of theories about governance and legitimacy were beneficial. However, my ‘critics’ would have liked a more sociological than socio-legal account, with more time being also being devoted to explaining my research methods, as well as to researching the police investigation. The comments of the reviewers should hopefully appear in book reviews in the not to distant future, including in Criminology and Criminal Justice.

After the BSC, I dashed straight off to a stop and search workshop organised by Professor Ben Bowling (KCL) and Dr Leanne Weber (Monash University). This was a truly wonderful and intellectually stimulating event which reminded me of why I am an academic. Speakers from around the world – from Canada, the USA, Japan, The Netherlands, India, South Africa and Australia to name a few - were invited to speak about stop and search practices, linking these micro-level practices to macro-level global trends such as populist punitiveness and the criminalisation of immigrants. The organisers created a truly collegiate and collaborative atmosphere, which prompted a terrific amount of thought-provoking discussion. Look out for the papers from this workshop in a special issue of Policing and Society, which is due out in a few months time.

National Custody Officer Forum – Wymondham, 20 July 2011

Yesterday I gave a talk for the National Custody Officer Forum about findings from my book. Since my talk was shortly before a visit to the nearby Wymondham Police Investigation Centre which is a facility shared by Norfolk/Suffolk Constabularies and has been built through a public finance initiative (PFI), I focused on chapter six of my book on plural policing and police custody. This chapter examines the role of civilians in police custody, who are either employed by the police or by private security companies and work alongside police officers.

The use of PFIs is not unusual in police custody, though as yet I have not come across any research on how many there are up and down the country. A PFI is when the private sector work in partnership with the police to design, build and finance a police custody facility and the police pay to use it. Contracts between the police and the private sector are typically issued for 25-30 years. Sometimes the private sector also provide staff who work in the custody area, alongside custody officers (who are police sergeants). This was certainly the case in Sunnyside, the pseudonym I gave to the PFI site in my research. It contrasted with the second site in my research, Gormiston, which is a police-run custody area, involving custody officers and civilians employed by the police.

PFIs are controversial. Some are in favour, saying that they save money, in part because they open up the public sector to competition. For example, Michael Gove’s has recently supported a £2bn PFI programme for building new schools. Others are not. PFIs have been described as an “elegant piece of hire purchase”, which effectively keeps the cost of facilities ‘off the books’ (Johnston, Buttons and Williamson, 2008: 227). Moreover, there is an assumption that PFIs are cost-effective, but the evidence about whether they yield the anticipated savings remains unclear. Of course, there are also the moral objections about profit being prioritised over justice.

What is curious about these developments in relation to police custody is that they have received little public debate. For example, I just searched ‘Google News’ under the terms ‘PFI and police custody’ and ‘PFI and policing’ and this generated less than 5 ‘hits’. Yet if you search under the terms ‘prisons and privatization UK’ you generate about 18 ‘hits’. Anecdotally, when I talk to taxi-drivers, neighbours or other members of the public about what I do, nearly all are surprised to hear that police custody has been subject to this form of privatization.

Without giving away too much of what I say in my book or of what I said during my presentation yesterday, my research suggests a mixture of findings about the effects of civilianization and privatization on police, civilian police staff and suspects.

Finally, many thanks to the various people that invited me to talk and made me feel welcome yesterday. There was lots of interesting and lively discussion, which showed how fruitful conversations can be between academics and practitioners.