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Programme & Unit Catalogues

SP20359: The history and politics of crime and punishment

[Page last updated: 01 August 2022]

Academic Year: 2022/23
Owning Department/School: Department of Social & Policy Sciences
Credits: 6 [equivalent to 12 CATS credits]
Notional Study Hours: 140
Level: Intermediate (FHEQ level 5)
Semester 1
Assessment Summary: EX100
Further information on unit assessment Assessment Detail:
  • Assessment detail data for this unit is currently being updated as a change has been approved. Updated assessment information will be published here shortly.
Supplementary Assessment:
SP20359A - Reassessment CW 100% (where allowed by programme regulations)
Learning Outcomes: By the end of this unit students will be able to:
  1. Discuss and analyse a range of important historical developments and political concepts;
  2. Assess how and why historical change and political dynamics affect crime, criminal justice institutions and punishment;
  3. Understand debates about the politics of criminal justice, including the importance of political ideologies and political institutions;
  4. Use and critically evaluate academic research on the history and politics of crime and punishment.

Aims: This unit looks at crime and punishment through an historical and political lens. The unit will provide students with background knowledge of the history of crime and criminal justice institutions (e.g. police, courts, prisons), and examine how they interact with different political ideologies (e.g. liberalism, conservatism, socialism, technocracy, populism) and institutions (e.g. Parliament, media, independent oversight bodies, pressure groups). Important historical developments will be studied alongside key political concepts, with a view to understanding why debates over criminal justice are often contested and controversial.

Skills: The unit will foster the following intellectual skills:
* The ability to draw on and synthesise evidence from a range of sources
* The ability to assess the merits and appropriateness of different explanations for crime and deviance
* The ability to develop a reasoned argument and exercise critical judgement
The unit will foster the following professional/practical skills:
* The ability to critically reflect on different theoretical/methodological approaches within criminology
* Written and oral communication skills
The unit will foster the following transferable/key skills:
* The ability to develop and present a well-structured, coherent essay.
* The ability to marshal evidence and theory to support or challenge an argument in such a way as to demonstrate a critical awareness of the origin and bases of knowledge
* The ability to apply key concepts in criminology and cognate disciplines to a range of problems
* The ability to work and communicate as individuals, as well as in a team
* Skills in information technology
* Critical and analytical skills.

Content: Among other things, the unit will cover themes on:
  1. Important background historical developments (e.g. the welfare state, neoliberalism, postwar crime rates, law and order politics);
  2. Key political ideologies and concepts (e.g. power, the state, order, liberty, equality, security);
  3. The history and politics of crime, especially high postwar crime rates and episodes of rioting and disorder;
  4. The history and politics of the police;
  5. The history and politics of the courts, especially prosecution and sentencing;
  6. The history and politics of punishment, especially imprisonment;
  7. The history and politics of terrorism;
  8. Contemporary themes and debates in the politics of crime and punishment, including privatization, austerity, inequality and identity.

Programme availability:

SP20359 is Compulsory on the following programmes:

Department of Social & Policy Sciences

SP20359 is Optional on the following programmes:

Department of Social & Policy Sciences
  • UHSP-AFB16 : BSc(Hons) Social Policy (Year 2)
  • UHSP-AKB16 : BSc(Hons) Social Policy with Year long work placement (Year 2)
  • UHSP-AFB05 : BSc(Hons) Social Sciences (Year 2)
  • UHSP-AKB05 : BSc(Hons) Social Sciences with Year long work placement (Year 2)
  • UHSP-AFB04 : BSc(Hons) Sociology (Year 2)
  • UHSP-AKB04 : BSc(Hons) Sociology with Year long work placement (Year 2)
  • UHSP-AFB10 : BSc(Hons) Sociology and Social Policy (Year 2)
  • UHSP-AKB10 : BSc(Hons) Sociology and Social Policy with Year long work placement (Year 2)


  • This unit catalogue is applicable for the 2022/23 academic year only. Students continuing their studies into 2023/24 and beyond should not assume that this unit will be available in future years in the format displayed here for 2022/23.
  • Programmes and units are subject to change in accordance with normal University procedures.
  • Availability of units will be subject to constraints such as staff availability, minimum and maximum group sizes, and timetabling factors as well as a student's ability to meet any pre-requisite rules.
  • Find out more about these and other important University terms and conditions here.