Impact success story: Criminology

Criminology research has made its mark on drug policy and police reform in our country.

Ghent University is known for its criminology research and continues to publish new results. Policymakers regularly refer to the drug research findings and advice of Ghent University researchers and often invite them to actively think about new measures. This type of cooperation doesn’t happen by chance and is the result of years of cooperation and trust.

At the service of professionals in the field

Noel Klima coordinates one of the 10 interdisciplinary consortia focused on social impact (IDCs) at Ghent University: the Crime, Criminology & Criminal Policy Consortium. He makes sure that collaboration between scientists from different fields and community stakeholders runs smoothly. “Different ideological trends and research traditions come together here. That provides a lot of academic, practice-oriented but also policy-oriented output. We have been in close contact with policymakers in the safety and health sector for decades and provide advice on policy, but also directly to associations. For example, one of our professors has chosen to provide social services one day a week through training and advice for civil society organisations. So this is really direct interaction with the professionals in the field.”

Criminologie (Photo by Matthew Ansley on Unsplash)

In particular, work is carried out on vulnerable groups, drugs, professional secrecy, etc. In addition, answers are formulated to ad hoc questions from practitioners concerning the professional secrecy of care providers for clients and patients in contact with the police and the judicial authorities. Finally, the research group also offers support in the design of practical guidelines and coaches teams and organisations on professional secrecy and ethical issues. This is done on the basis of concrete cases and questions that these teams and organisations provide in advance.


Involving stakeholders

Criminologists involve stakeholders such as the police, social workers and victims from the outset in their investigation, for example through advisory boards.

“You do scientific research when possible, and best together with the people concerned.” (Noel Klima)

“You could just involve those stakeholders through a simple analysis. Or, you could also write the research question together and make policy recommendations jointly at the end. We try to put this into practice in particular. A good example is ‘internment +’, a project about people with mental disorders who are in prison or an institution. Until recently, little or nothing was done for that group. Decisions about their situation were made from the outside, without the parties involved having anything to say about it.”

Our project has reopened the debate and formulated a whole series of policy recommendations in collaboration with the various stakeholders. Every sentence taken from this in a policy document can ultimately lead to real change.

Impact through legislation

The social impact of fundamental research is already more difficult to demonstrate. Noel Klima: “For example, if you want to know why people give up crime, you will learn from your research that turning points in ‘normal’ life such as having or losing a partner or children often play a greater role than imposing a punishment. In order to give this research impact, we always provide policy recommendations that we also actively disseminate in the press and with regard to those responsible for policy. Some professors also offer advice on new legislation and are, for example, asked to reflect on new draft laws in the chamber. Research results on penalties and stopping crime were thus brought into the parliamentary discussions on the new criminal code and the meaning of (short) prison sentences.”

Other dossiers on which researchers from the Law and Criminology Faculty of Ghent University left their mark are police reform and EU security and justice policy. Today, for example, researchers are participating in different working groups at Europol and the European Commission or are members of the Belgian Data Protection Authority (the former privacy commission). And in the past, many adjustments have been made at the initiative of Ghent University in the area of EU justice policy on prostitution and human trafficking.

Mobility and big data as new hot topics

Mobility has recently become a more prominent theme. Noel Klima: “This concerns for example the mobility of perpetrators in the event of burglaries and about mobile perpetrator groups and how they move from one place to another. Here, we work together with geographers and other STEM disciplines. Environmental criminology gives us a glimpse into the future of crime investigations that will increasingly focus on big data and things like predictive policing that allow the police to predict where crime will occur based on environmental factors. Supercomputers are also being used to learn to recognise these patterns.”

More information

IDC Crime, Criminology & Criminal Policy