Psychology of criminal justice

Psychology of criminal justice

Dr. Tim McSweeney’s research addresses drug and alcohol misuse and dependency within the criminal justice system. It also focuses on understanding 'organised' and group-based forms of offending and measures the impact of different criminal justice interventions on behavioural change and reoffending.

Tim joined the University of Hertfordshire in 2018. Immediately before that, he worked at the Home Office where he was responsible for overseeing research and evaluation on aspects of the government's counter-extremism and hate crime strategies and on so called ‘honour’ based abuse, such as forced marriage.

Tim has previously held senior research roles with the Ministry of Justice. He led on survey methods and quantitative research with HM Inspectorate of Prisons and was one of two senior researchers leading a team of 12 which - over an 18-month period - surveyed and interviewed more than 13,000 prisoners, and inspected and reported on over 100 places of detention in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Tim has also served in an advisory capacity to the Council of Europe, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, and the World Health Organisation on policy responses for tackling drug and alcohol-related crime.

Forensic practice

Prof. Joanna Adler’s research and evaluation focuses on offending and its impacts both in real world and virtual communities. As an HCPC practitioner psychologist and chartered forensic psychologist, Joanna has worked closely with practitioners and those who are involved directly in implementing criminal and civil justice for the past 25 years.

Joanna joined Psychology and Sports Science in May, 2019 having previously set up and directed Forensic Psychological Services at Middlesex University. As professor of forensic psychology at Herts, she has continued advisory work such as that with the Justice Data Lab and has worked with Dr McSweeney and others at the University to build new collaborations. They currently lead the Herts evaluation team for the Youth Endowment Fund.

From July 2019, Tim and Joanna have also been working with Broome Gekoski consultants to conduct research for the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse on victim-survivors’ experiences of support.

Memory and the law

The view of autobiographical memory held by most memory researchers is that memories are constructed from underlying knowledge, and that makes them prone to error or even being false. There has also been an understanding that courts’ and judicial views of what constitutes evidence do not always accord with social scientific, psychological views on what is rigorous research. This means that there has been a mismatch in courts’ and tribunals’ understanding and reliance on people’s memories and judgements regarding how accurate or reliable those memories may be. We’ve been working on how to provide reliable information on memory to judges, barristers and jurors.

In a recent paper exploring beliefs about memory among police, the public and memory researchers, Shazia Akhtar and her colleagues highlighted something we dubbed the ‘common sense memory belief system’. ‘The central feature of that belief system is that memory is like a video. This belief is quite clearly wrong, according to a large body of previous evidence

We are hoping, through our work, that judges in particular will become better informed about our current understanding of autobiographical memories.

Current projects include:

  1. Memory beliefs in barristers and the CPS (Akhtar, Justice & Conway)
  2. Episodicity of different types of memories (Akhtar, Loveday & Conway)
  3. Memories for emotional events (Akhtar & Conway)