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Research Assistant and PhD Researcher in Criminology Melindy Brown talks about her research on support for released prisoners in the community, with a particular focus on alcohol-related offending.

I have always, perhaps initially without knowing, been a positive criminologist. Particularly by taking the positive criminological definition that refers to focusing on an individual’s positive encounters and influences, and on emphasizing positive experiences through treatment and rehabilitation, that in turn support the individual’s movement away from deviance and crime (Ronel and Elisha, 2010). This perspective is all centred around this important aspect of desistance; gaining a true insight in to why people commit crimes and from that help them make vital changes in their life, that will encourage a long-term abstinence from criminal behaviour (McNeill et al, 2012).

As such, it was clear that my PhD would be centred on positive criminology and the desistance process. My PhD focuses on determining how effective the support from probation services and substance misuse support charities has been at helping prisoners who have been released into the community after being convicted from a substance misuse offence.

It is imperative that we see released prisoners as service users, which is what those who work with them in a practitioner capacity do, rather than primarily ex-offenders. They are users of a service; in this sense a user of the probation service and substance misuse support charities. As a result, the same way that customer satisfaction surveys exist in shops, we need to understand what experiences the service users are having and take their advice in terms of finding the best way that they believe will encourage them to desist from crime and engage in rehabilitation from substance misuse.

The focus on substance misuse plays a key part in my research as there is a strong link between offending behaviour and substance misuse, particularly alcohol. Alcohol is often known as the forgotten drug, especially due to its legal status. It is therefore easily accessible and has been shown to enhance deviant behaviour. It is also clear that alcohol use does not occur in isolation, and can have an effect on a number of other factors that also influence reoffending, often demonstrated within the nine key pathways to desistance - education; employment; drug and alcohol misuse; mental and physical health; attitudes and self-control; institutionalisation and life-skills; housing; financial support and debt; and family networks (Social Exclusion Unit, 2002).

Furthermore, after considering the literature around this area in detail, the same way it is acknowledged in sentencing and the types of crimes committed, it has been important for my research to recognise and consider the personal differences that arise from experiences of support, particularly on the basis of gender and ethnicity demographics.

Taking into consideration all the above factors; the importance of recognising the effectiveness of support, the use of substances and other influencing factors, and differences in support needed on the basis of demographics, my PhD has encompassed them all.

As a result, I am conducting semi-structured interviews with service users, both men and women, from varied ethnicities and ages. This will help determine the most effective factor in supporting desistance and rehabilitation, and in highlighting how much of an impact the other influencing factors have on reoffending.

By the end of my PhD, I hope that my research will help in changing policy and practice so that it is best fitted to the needs of varied service users. By focusing on providing service users with positive experiences, I will hopefully benefit communities by enhancing desistance amongst service users and therefore reducing reoffending rates. Having the opportunity to try and make a change is why I am a proud to be a positive criminologist!

By Melindy Brown
Research Assistant and PhD Researcher in Criminology

The content above is the opinion of the author(s), and does not represent the views or opinions of Birmingham City University.


McNeill, F., Farrall, S., Lightowler, C. & Maruna, S. (2012) How and why people stop offending: Discovering Desistance. [online] Available from: https://www.iriss.org.uk/resources/insights/how-why-people-stop-offending-discovering-desistance [Accessed on: 10 April 2018]

Ronel, N. & Elisha, E. (2010) ‘A Different Perspective: Introducing Positive Criminology’. International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 55(2), pp. 305-325

Social Exclusion Unit (2002) Reducing re-offending by ex-prisoners, Social Exclusion Unit, July 2002. [online] Available from: http://www.i-hop.org.uk/ci/fattach/get/59/0/session/L2F2LzEvdGltZS8xNDYzOTk2MzMzL3NpZC9aWGtJZ2NSbQ==/filename/Reducing+re-offending+by+ex-prisoners.pdf [Accessed on: 10 April 2018]


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