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Why Cambridge?


Why Cambridge?

Experimental criminology is a rapidly growing field, with increasing influence on public policy decisions.  It has already shown how to prevent millions of violent crimes, as well as unnecessary pre-trial detention of millions of people.  These reasons alone make it appropriate to locate the world's first Centre of Experimental Criminology at Cambridge University.  For, like experimental medicine, this branch of criminology uses a scientific method that was invented by a Cambridge graduate, Sir Ronald Aylmer Fisher, whose theoretical work on experimental methods revolutionized the study of cause and effect.  In his time at Cambridge Fisher won the undergraduate mathematics prize and later spent 17 years as Professor of Genetics.  Among his many ideas was the central insight that random assignment of a consistent action across some but not all of a large population could "hold constant" the other factors that could affect any subsequent outcomes.

In 1959 Cambridge established the first Institute of Criminology in the English-speaking world, with close links to the UK government and its need for policy-relevant research.  Established in part with funds from the Wolfson Foundation at the request of Home Secretary RA Butler, the Cambridge Institute of Criminology has engaged equally with theoretical and applied questions of the causes and prevention of crime throughout its distinguished history.  These questions were of great interest to the Institute's founder, Sir Leon Radzinowicz, as well as to two of the previous Directors: Sir Anthony Bottoms and Professor Friedrich Losel.  They have also been of particular interest to the Institute's polymath of all branches of criminology, Professor David Farrington, who co-founded the Academy of Experimental Criminology in 1998 and served as its President (2001-2004).

For these and other reasons, the Jerry Lee Foundation decided in 2006 to offer to assist in the founding of the first university centre devoted solely to the advancement of experimental criminology.  With the Lee Foundation's initial pledge to fund a programme of pre-doctoral and post-doctoral 'Jerry Lee Scholars', the University agreed to have the Jerry Lee Centre of Criminology established in the Law Faculty's Institute of Criminology in 2007. In that same year Lawrence Sherman, the University's 4th Wolfson Professor of Criminology, was appointed the first Director of the Jerry Lee Centre.

This appointment also bench marked ten years of a continuing collaboration between Lawrence Sherman and the Foundation's President, Jerry Lee, who has championed social science research in business and government for decades.  Their collaboration includes contributions to the founding of the Stockholm Prize in Criminology; the Jerry Lee Centre of Criminology and the Department of Criminology at the University of Pennsylvania; the Division of Experimental Criminology of the American Society of Criminology; and other initiatives for advancing the institutional development of criminology.  This includes the largest programme of multiple randomized trials of a single crime prevention strategy ever conducted in experimental criminology, the Jerry Lee Programme of Randomized Controlled Trials in Restorative Justice, a series of 12 field experiments involving over 3,000 crime victims and offenders.

A recent independent evaluation of seven of these Jerry Lee Programme experiments, conducted by Professor Joanna Shapland and her team, found an overall 27% reduction in the frequency of re-convictions of offenders two years after random assignment to restorative justice meetings, compared to similar consenting offenders who were chosen for the control group.