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

Monday, 5 March 2012

Is it the end of the (policing) world as we know it?

I have been following with avid interest the hotting-up of the debate about the contracting-out of police functions, in the context of the Coalition Government’s wider plans to contract-out other parts of the public sector to the private sector, including the NHS and parts of local government. Hence, I was not entirely surprised to read the headlines in The Guardian over the weekend about the plans for the privatisation of policing. According to this report, the intention is to extend the contracting-out of police services beyond police custody (something which was civilianised in the 1990s, but began to be contracted-out to the private sector in the 2000s) to other police functions including patrol and investigation. In particular, it is looking likely that West Midlands Police and Surrey Police will lead the way in issuing multi-billion pound contracts to the private sector for providing some of these services, thanks to them having Chief Constables who are favourable to such developments.

This signals a new phase in the workforce modernization agenda in policing, though at the same time takes us ‘back to the future’, having parallels with the patterns of policing that existed prior to the birth of the ‘new police’ in 1829 when policing became more firmly located within the state. Whilst it signals a new phase in policing, it also appears to be a continuation of the project of privatization that began under the Conservative Government in the 1980s and 1990s when the private sector were delegated to run parts of the prison estate and when various nationalised industries including British Rail, British Coal, British Telecom and so on were privatized. Growing up in the 1980s in Doncaster  – a former pit town - I remember the disruption, devastation and deprivation that this caused all too well.

So what to make of these latest developments? Is it the end of the (policing) world as we know it? Or at least as I have known it in my lifetime? I think a few issues are worth flagging. We are entering into untested waters. Whilst contracting-out has slowly been emerging in police custody, there have been few studies to have systematically examined its consequences for police officers or citizens. Mine being one of them. Consequently, some key questions remain unanswered, particularly if contracting out is to be extended to other parts of the police organisation: Will it cost less? Will it lead to improved service delivery and who will benefit from these changes? Is it something that the public want? What about the consequences for police officers and the policed, for that matter? We simply do not know the answers to these questions. I have a research grant application pending for a study which will delve into the complex answers to some of these questions, in relation to police custody. (Fingers and toes crossed that my bid is successful). Surely, it is better to have addressed these questions in relation to all the relevant areas of policing where contracting-out is to be trialled, before contracting-out is rolled-out to West Midlands and Surrey Police and beyond?

There is also a more fundamental issue at stake in relation to the proposals to contract-out a wide variety of police functions to the private sector, which have traditionally been performed by police officers. What should policing look like in contemporary societies, where cuts to police budgets by up to 20 per cent is a reality? Should parts of the police role be handed over to the private sector? If so, which police functions? And where should the thin blue dividing line be drawn? The power of arrest seems to have emerged as one task that the police believe should remain with the police.  

Answering these questions requires an appreciation of the link between the police and society. Policing scholar, Robert Reiner, describes the police as like ‘litmus paper’ reflecting the unfolding exigencies of society. The social conditions of policing shape the kind of policing we have and we believe to be right, whilst the police in turn contribute to patterns of social ordering, as well as to societal norms and values. For instance, if the police – a key institution of the State, at least since 1829 – is to be privatised, what does that tell us about what we as value as a society? That saving money and cost effectiveness, the free-market, and private sector profit should be valued over a strong role for the state in bringing about justice and contributing to the security of society?

This alerts us to the fact that in fundamentally altering the way that policing is delivered through contracting-out, more is at stake than simply whether or not private security companies patrol neighbourhoods or lock someone up and take their fingerprints at the police station. What is at stake is how we see ourselves as a society and what we value as important. Widespread contracting-out of a variety of police functions spells not only the end of the policing world as we currently know it, but also, and more fundamentally, an end to a society which values the State in delivering justice and security.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Reasons to celebrate

I was delighted to see in the news yesterday that following a debate in the House of Lords, the plans in the Legal Aid and Sentencing Bill to introduce means-testing to determine suspects' eligibility for custodial legal advice have been dropped. This really is something to celebrate. Aside from the practical concerns about the police and suspects being hard-pressed to confirm a suspects financial status, within the confines of a police investigation, publicly-funded custodial legal advice is an absolute must in a jurisdiction such as England and Wales where suspects have only a qualified not an absolute right to silence. This means that negative inferences can be drawn from a suspects silence and that only a legal advisor can properly advise a suspect about whether remaining silent is in their best interests, bearing in mind that they are only suspects and may well be innocent.

It is only by looking at what happens elsewhere can we really appreciate the importance of the right to publicly-funded legal advice for all suspects in the police station in England and Wales. In my recent British-Academy funded comparative study of police custody in England and Wales, Ireland and a jurisdiction each in the U.S. and Australia, there were clear differences. In England and Ireland there was a qualified right to silence, meaning that adverse inferences could be drawn, for example, if they failed to reveal something in interview that they later relied on in court. By contrast, in the Australian and American jurisdictions there was an absolute right to silence. In theory, exercising this right to silence in the American jurisdiction means that the police have to terminate the interview and cannot ask the suspect to be interviewed again.

It was only in England and Wales that suspects had access both in theory and practice to publicly-funded legal advice in the police station. This right existed, in theory, for some suspects and some of the time in Ireland and the Australian jurisdiction, though some of the staff I spoke to were unclear about who was entitled to receive it and there appeared to be limited up-take of it. In the American jurisdiction whilst suspects were informed of their right to legal advice including from a public defender, in practice, this right was only available on arraignment. Overall, this meant that there were few lawyers at the police station in Ireland or in the jurisdictions in Australia and America, whilst lawyers are much more visible in police stations in England, if not in person over the telephone.

The variations between the four jurisdictions in terms of the right to silence is fundamental to understanding why the right to publicly-funded legal advice for all in the police station is so important in England. Without it, there is a greater risk that someone might be convicted partly because they remained silent. Kenneth Clarke may well be right that England has a generous legal aid system, but this is not only justified, but also necessary in view of the qualified right to silence.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Any budding PhD students out there?




The White Rose Universities of Leeds, Sheffield and York have made available three ESRC funded PhD studentships related to social order and urban unrest. The ‘Beyond the Riots’ studentship network aims to develop PhD students through analysis of different forms of disorderly conduct through a range of cross disciplinary and combined methodological approaches. The network will promote and coordinate the interaction of students and supervisors with a shared interest in social (dis)order and urban governance and will encourage insights into the prevention of unrest and the promotion of peaceful social relations and inter-group tolerance. The Studentships are attached to the ESRC funded White Rose Doctoral Training Centre (DTC).

Supervisors: Professor Adam Crawford, School of Law, University of Leeds;
Dr Layla Skinns, School of Law, University of Sheffield
For application particulars, consult: Karin Houkes: k.m.houkes@leeds.ac.uk
Supervisors: Dr Rowland Atkinson, Department of Sociology, University of York;
Dr Alpa Parmar, School of Law, University of Leeds
For application particulars, consult:
housing tenure and urban unrest
Supervisors: Professor John Flint, Department of Town and Regional Planning, University of Sheffield;
Professor Caroline Hunter, School of Law, University of York
For application particulars, consult:

The White Rose University Consortium is a strategic partnership between Yorkshire’s leading research universities of Leeds, Sheffield and York.  Each university is offering a three-year Research Studentship for students commencing full-time PhD research study in Session 2012/13.  Each student project will be supervised by two members of academic staff, one each from two of the partner universities. Students will register at one university but will have access to the research facilities of the partner institution. The ‘Beyond the Riots’ network will be located within the existing (umbrella) White Rose DTC pathway of Security, Conflict and Justice and will also benefit from close working relations and collaborative meetings and events in conjunction with two existing White Rose studentship networks – ‘Responding to Global Challenges of Crime and Insecurity’ (2010-13) and ‘Global Anxieties and Urban Governance’ (2011-14). The studentships provide Home/EU tuition fees, an annual maintenance grant of £13,590 (in Session 2011/12) and a contribution towards research and travel expenses.  All of the ‘Beyond the Riots’ studentships are working toward a common application deadline of 5.00pm 3rd February 2012.  Applicants may apply to more than one studentship, but should indicate their preference.

January blues?

The run up to Christmas was so hectic, what with the Howard League report coming out and submitting three different research bids. One of these was written in collaboration with colleagues at the Universities of Leeds, Sheffield and York for three ESRC-funded White Rose PhD studentships. I was delighted to find out that we had been successful in our application. More on this in a moment. I am keeping all my fingers and toes crossed for success with the remaining two.

Christmas in the beautiful Lake District then came and went really quickly this year and here I am gearing up for Semester 2. This is my really busy teaching semester. I will be teaching lectures and seminars on three different modules, including my new MA Module, Policing and Society, which is an exciting new development for me and I hope for the students too! Teaching preparation is filling most of my time at the moment, but I am also close to finishing off a book proposal for a new book on policing and trying to make time for a few journal articles too.

I saw off the January blues by having a mass clear out and tidy of my office. It is now pristine and super organised in preparation for the busy period ahead of me. January not spring seems to me like the best time of year for this. Maybe that's just me.