Not available in 2020/21
SP370      Half Unit
Criminological Controversies

This information is for the 2020/21 session.

Teacher responsible

Prof Tim Newburn OLD.2.40a


This course is compulsory on the BSc in Criminology. This course is available on the BSc in International Social and Public Policy, BSc in International Social and Public Policy and Economics and BSc in International Social and Public Policy with Politics. This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit and to General Course students.


Prior study of criminology might be helpful.

Course content

The focus of this course is on a selection of important, and potentially controversial, debates within criminology. It is the ‘sister’ course to the ‘Interrogating Criminological Research’ half module and, like that proposed course, takes an initially practical approach to criminological ideas and evidence. Fundamentally, it seeks to arm students with up-to-date knowledge of criminological research (and its limitations) and help them to apply these to some of the more pressing questions asked within the subject. There are really no ‘core’ debates, rather a wide range of issues that would be likely to engage students and help them to see more clearly how research design, methodological choices, together with issues of rigour and ethics, are vital to understanding the nature and quality of the arguments involved. From a practical point of view, this course can easily be adapted to cope with staff (un)availability without losing any of its coherence or substance. The list below gives a flavour of the possible 'controversies' that might be included:

1. Are genetics the future of crime control?

2. Is media coverage of crime anti-democratic?

3. Should we see more politicians and business people in our courts?

4. How should society deal with sex offenders?

5. Does prison work?

6. Should drugs be decriminalised?

7. Should we bring back the death penalty?

8. Riots: irrational mobs or backlash of the dispossessed?

9. Is opportunity theory the only theory a criminologist needs?

10. Is CCTV useful?

11. Should victims influence sentencing in court?

12. Do the police take violence against women seriously?

13. Should the age of criminal responsibility be increased?

14. Should women’s prisons be abolished?

15. Is concern about gangs just a ‘moral panic’?

16. Is ‘stop and search’ a vital policing power?

17. Is there a place for the private sector in running prisons?

18. Should custodial sentences be limited to violent crimes?

19. Is it time to arm the police?


20 hours of classes in the LT.

This course will be taught as two-hour combined lecture/classes - allowing for interactivity in all sessions.

Formative coursework

Students will be expected to produce 2 exercises in the LT.

Indicative reading

Van den Haag, E. (1984) The death penalty once more, University of California Davis Law Review, 18, 4, 957-972

Bedau, H.D. (1997) A reply to van den Haag, in H.D. Bedau (ed) The Death Penalty in America: current controversies, New York: OUP

Wilson, J.Q. and Herrnstein, R. (1985) Crime and Human Nature, New York: Simon and Schuster

Bonn, R.L. and Smith, A.B. (1988) The case against using biological indicators in judicial decision-making, Criminal Justice Ethics, Winter/Spring, 3-9

Herrnstein, R. (1988) Crime and Human Nature Revisited: A response to Bonn and Smith, Criminal Justice Ethics, Winter/Spring, 10-14

Bonn, R.L. and Smith, A.B. (1988) Rejoinder to Herrnstein, Criminal Justice Ethics, Winter/Spring, 15-16

Herrnstein, R. (1988) Rebuttal, Criminal Justice Ethics, Winter/Spring, 17-18

Transform (2010) After the War on Drugs: Blueprint for regulation,

Ellis, T. and Silverstone, D. (2012) Legalise drugs? In Ellis, T. and Savage, S. (eds) Debates in Criminal Justice, London: Routledge

Youth Justice (2013) Special Issue: The Minimum Age of Criminal Responsibility: Clinical, Criminological/Sociological, Developmental and Legal Perspectives

Ashworth, A. (2013) What if imprisonment were abolished for property offences? Howard League ‘What if?’ pamphlets, London: Howard League for Penal Reform/Mannheim Centre for Criminology, LSE


Essay (70%, 3000 words) and presentation (30%) in the LT.

Important information in response to COVID-19

Please note that during 2020/21 academic year some variation to teaching and learning activities may be required to respond to changes in public health advice and/or to account for the situation of students in attendance on campus and those studying online during the early part of the academic year. For assessment, this may involve changes to mode of delivery and/or the format or weighting of assessments. Changes will only be made if required and students will be notified about any changes to teaching or assessment plans at the earliest opportunity.

Key facts

Department: Social Policy

Total students 2019/20: Unavailable

Average class size 2019/20: Unavailable

Capped 2019/20: No

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Self-management
  • Team working
  • Application of information skills
  • Communication