Social sciences

This page lists ongoing and future projects in the field of social sciences that have been approved by the POST Board.

Alternative sentencing

Provisional start date October 2019: to contribute please email Dr Rowena Bermingham

When an individual is convicted of a crime, they can be given an immediate custodial sentence, a suspended custodial sentence or a non-custodial sentence. Different sentences have various aims, which can include punishment, rehabilitation, compensation for victims or a reduction in future crime (by preventing reoffending or putting potential offenders off committing crime).


The prison population in the UK currently stands at around 92,500 and 58% of UK prisons report being overcrowded. Projections suggest that the prison population will rise to 98,000 by 2022. The average expenditure per prisoner per year in England and Wales is around £35,000, over three times the average public expenditure per year for a person living in the UK. However, Ministry of Justice figures suggest that some prison sentences may be ineffective, with 64% of adults who serve a short-term sentence (less than a year) committing another offence within 12 months of being released. This is compared to 29% of those serving custodial sentences of over a year and 30% of those who received non-custodial sentences.


If an individual is given an alternative sentence (suspended custodial sentences or non-custodial sentences), they are put under the supervision of the probation service. Alternative sentences may carry various obligations for the convicted individual, which can include being required to wear an electronic tag, participating in restorative justice (such as meeting victims or paying a restitution fine to a victim), taking part in a specified programme (such as mental health treatment, anger management programmes or treatment for drug or alcohol addiction), or carrying out community service. Emerging evidence suggests that some forms of alternative sentencing may reduce reoffending more than custodial sentences (especially short-term sentences) and could also be more cost-effective.


In 2019, the Prisons Minister expressed concern about the effectiveness of short-term custodial sentences and suggested that alternative sentences may prevent prison overcrowding and reduce reoffending. In May 2019, the Justice Secretary announced a new model for probation services, which included making £280 million available for the voluntary and private sectors to deliver innovative rehabilitation services.

A POSTnote in this area would present current alternative sentences in the UK and evidence on its effectiveness compared to custodial sentences, as well as reviewing other forms of alternative sentencing being trialled internationally.




Improving eyewitness testimony

In production: to contribute please email Fabiola Creed

Eyewitness testimony plays a crucial role in the investigation and prosecution of crimes, and in asylum procedures. For several decades, scientists have conducted research on the factors that affect the accuracy of eyewitness identification procedures, which has challenged many of the assumptions of the legal system and the general public regarding the accuracy of eyewitness accounts.

Research from psychology and neuroscience has led to some changes. However, there is criticism that overall the justice system has been slow to adapt to research findings and that the way that evidence is collected and used still needs much improvement.

Improved policies and procedures to support accurate eyewitness testimony may increase public confidence in the fairness and effectiveness of the justice system and may also reduce financial and human costs associated with false eyewitness testimony.

A POSTnote in this area would provide an overview of research assessing the accuracy of eyewitness testimony in the investigation and prosecution of crimes, and in asylum procedures. It would examine the evidence for how the way that eyewitness testimony; including from young children, the elderly and people with autism; is collected and used and how it could be improved to enhance confidence in the fairness and effectiveness of criminal justice. 



Integrating health and social care

In production: to contribute please email Dr Rowena Bermingham

An ageing population and the increasing prevalence of long-term conditions continue to place pressure on health and social care services. The four UK nations have committed to better integration between health and social care as one solution to these challenges.

This briefing will provide an update to the POSTnote 0532. It will examine whether policies have enabled integration to date, identify the measures that have been used to evaluate integration, and present an overview of the relative effectiveness of models of integration in community care.


 



Research glossary

In production: to contribute please email Dr Rowena Bermingham

This POSTbrief will outline different approaches and methods used within research and review the strengths and limitations of each. The purpose of this is to provide an overview of key terms and approaches that can be used to inform parliamentary scrutiny.

Image: iStockphoto

Contact POST

Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology
Houses of Parliament
Westminster
London
SW1A 0AA

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