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LSE experts to write official history of the criminal justice system

Photograph of hands in handcuffsThe Prime Minister has announced that three LSE experts have been appointed to write an official history of the criminal justice system.

Professors Paul Rock, David Downes and Tim Newburn will examine the significant changes in the criminal justice system in the 40 years leading up to the late 1990s. The history will also cover criminal justice policies, the courts and penal policy.

Photograph of Paul RockProfessor Paul Rock said: 'The period we will be looking at started with immense official confidence about our capacity to deal with crime through, for example, rehabilitation and therapy. In the 1970s this turned to radical pessimism, with a rebound of optimism in confidence in the 1990s.

'While many governments claim the successes in crime reduction are the result of their policies, in actual fact, nobody quite knows why there have been these peaks and troughs. Interestingly, the public refuses to believe that crime is going down.'

The official history will analyse a number of themes. For example, the transformation in the way policy is made including the shift away from a heavy reliance on official expertise to an increased focus on allaying public fears about crime. This is reflected in the fact that crime has become increasingly politicized as an issue and has become more important in election campaigns since the 1970s.

Photograph of David DownesOther themes will include "hybridization" - the fact that criminal justice is no longer just the preserve of official agencies but is delivered as a collaboration between those agencies and non governmental organizations. Globalisation and the importance of, for example, international directives will also be looked at.

Professor Rock said: 'One of the great attractions of this study is that the rule whereby official papers are not publicly disclosed for 30 years will be waived for us. Oral history will also be an important source given the advent of the paperless office towards the end of the period we will be looking at.'

Photograph of Tim NewburnThe government's official history programme, which is run by the Cabinet Office, is intended to provide authoritative histories on important events in British history and be a reliable source for historians in advance of the records being available in The National Archives. The histories are also meant to be a fund of experience for future government use.

Professor Rock said: 'The fact that three LSE academics have been appointed to write this reflects the strength of criminology at the School organized under the auspices of the Mannheim Centre.'

2 March 2009