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Postgraduate Ethics of Policing and Criminal Justice

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  • Objectives
    The course aims to deepen your understanding of ethical issues within the fields of policing and criminal justice, and to enhance your ability to think systematically about the moral issues that you may face in your work. If you successfully complete the MA and wish to continue your studies in this area, you may apply to proceed to an MPhil or PhD.
  • Entry requirements
    Applicants should either have a degree in a relevant subject or appropriate professional qualifications and/or experience. Applications are welcome from people with a professional or other serious interest in ethical issues in policing and criminal justice, such as (but not limited to) police officers, probation officers, prison officers, social workers, civil servants, lawyers, and members of the judiciary. International students whose first language is not English must have IELTS 6.5 or equivalent.
  • Academic Title
    MA, Postgraduate Diploma Ethics of Policing and Criminal Justice
  • Course description
    Full-Time & Part-Time study


    This course is designed especially for those working in fields related to policing and criminal justice. It provides them with an opportunity to gain a deeper and more systematic understanding of ethical issues in those fields, and to explore the moral problems which they face in their work.

    The course is structured to be compatible with the demands of full-time employment, and to be accessible from all over the UK and beyond. It is taught jointly by staff from the Centre for Professional Ethics and the School of Criminology, Education, Sociology & Social Work who have a particular interest in ethical issues in these areas. From time to time, outside speakers may be invited to speak on this course.

    The teaching team have many years of experience of teaching on postgraduate applied ethics programmes. We are very aware of the special problems and challenges which may face those combining study with full-time work and therefore we do our utmost to offer a supportive and stimulating environment for learning. Each student is assigned a personal supervisor from the teaching team whom they can contact for help or advice at any time during the course.

    Course Structure and Content

    Masters courses require the successful completion of 180 M level credits: 120 credits through taught modules, and 60 credits for the dissertation of 15,000-20,000 words.

    Most students study part-time and complete the MA in two years. Year one consists of four taught modules worth 30 credits each. Each of these modules is taught in a single intensive three-day teaching block.

    The first of these blocks is normally in October, with subsequent blocks spread throughout the academic year. In year two, students go on to research and write a dissertation to obtain the award of Master of Arts (MA).

    There are no specific attendance requirements at all during the second year – you may either meet with your supervisor at mutually convenient times, or keep in touch by phone or email, or use a combination of methods. Students wishing to study full-time and complete the course in one year would write their dissertation alongside taking the taught modules.

    If you successfully complete the taught modules, but do not wish to write a dissertation, you will be awarded a Postgraduate Diploma (PgDip).

    We regard high levels of student participation in discussion as particularly important for teaching and learning in this area, and employ teaching techniques which encourage this wherever possible.

    Course Modules

    • Module 1: Introduction to Ethical and Social Theory – This module seeks to provide the groundwork for the rest of the course. It will offer an introduction to key concepts of moral and political/social theory (e.g. consequentialism and deontology, relativism and tolerance, liberty, authority, justice, rights and the relation between law and morality) and consider their application to questions of crime and punishment. There will also be skills sessions in the library and IT suite consisting of introductions to Athens, e-journals and other e-learning resources.

    • Module 2: Ethics of Policing and Criminal Justice – The purpose of this module will be to make use of the key concepts in moral and political/social theory introduced in the first module of the course to address some of the key ethical questions that arise in respect
    of crime prevention, policing and criminal justice. It will examine, for example: the impact of human rights discourses on the work of practitioners in local government, the voluntary sector and in the police, probation and prison services; the ethical implications of increasing private (commercial and voluntary) provision in policing, crime prevention and criminal justice; and the balance to be struck between, on the one hand, liberty interests and individual rights to privacy and, on the other, individual and collective demands for security.

    • Module 3: Ethics, Justice, and Punishment – This module will consider various answers to the questions “Why do societies punish?” and“How should they punish?” as well as addressing how the central concepts of ethical theory and criminology may help illuminate some vexed questions in contemporary penality. Issues covered may include deterrence; incapacitation; rehabilitation; retributivism; restitution. Discussion will be set in the context of the penal politics, examining such concepts as ‘just desserts’, ‘restorative justice’ and ‘What Works’.

    • Module 4: Ethical Issues in Contemporary Crime Control – The purpose of this module will be to look at the way in which some of the more general issues raised in the other three modules are played out in practice, and how those issues may be addressed by practitioners using the resources of philosophy and criminology. The module will take a number of key controversies in contemporary crime control policy and practice and subject them to ethical scrutiny using the theories and principles considered in the rest of the course. These controversies could include, for example: the rise of so-called ‘zero tolerance’ styles of policing; the claims of situational crime prevention to ethical superiority; the role of victims and ‘communities’ in the criminal justice process; and the growing salience of actuarial techniques in targeting groups and individuals for preventive interventions.


    Each of the taught modules is assessed by a written coursework assignment of up to 4,000 words. If you successfully complete the taught modules, you may apply to progress to the MA stage, which involves researching and writing a dissertation of 15,000-20,000 words on an approved topic. There are no exams.

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