Criminology, sentencing and the penal system (CSPS) module at Cambridge

Criminology, Sentencing and the Penal System (CSPS) is currently the only non-law module that law students can take at Cambridge. In this article, I will give you an overview of three key areas that I decided to focus on to give you an idea of what is involved in studying Criminology, Sentencing and the Penal System (CSPS).

Author: Irfan Allana

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Criminology, Sentencing and the Penal System (CSPS) is currently the only non-law module which law student are allowed to take at Cambridge.

Criminology, Sentencing and the Penal System (CSPS) is the study of crime: its causes, how the penal system should tackle crime and the consequences of crime on the individuals involved and society as a whole. Unlike for most other law modules, you can focus on four or five key areas out of the nine you study in the exam and therefore it is a popular option amongst law student. In this article, I will give you an overview of three key areas that I chose to focus on to give you a feel for what studying Criminology, Sentencing and the Penal System (CSPS) entails.



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1) Theories of Punishment

This supervision involves examining the justifications for penal measures. The consequentialist and retributivist theories of punishment underpin our penal system. The consequentialist theory of crime focuses on preventing the harms that crime causes whilst the retributivist theory places an emphasis on censuring wrongdoing through the imposition of some pain or sanction. However, many criminologist thinkers argue that these penal theories fail to see crime in its wider social context.

They argue that crime often derives from social disadvantage and therefore advocate a rehabilitative approach through programmes which aim to re-integrate a convicted person into society or even restorative justice which involves rehabilitating offenders through reconciliation with victims and the community at large. The philosophical debate is intriguing and the supervision is an exciting time for you to discuss your views!



2) The Youth Justice System (YJS)

The YJS has been the subject of much public debate in recent years. Politicians have recognised the need for a rehabilitative justice system for young offenders, with David Cameron pushing for an ‘intelligent justice system’. However, public punitiveness – the public’s desire to inflict punishment on offenders – has also meant that retributive justice maintains a prominent role in the YJS. Youth in the justice system have unique concerns such as education to put them on a path to a law-abiding life and continued contact with their parents or guardians. This is one of the most controversial areas in criminology and it is surprising to see how differently states have addressed youth justice.


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3) Race and Crime

David Cameron candidly admitted that ‘if you’re black, you’re more likely to be in a prison cell than studying at a top university’. The race and crime supervision gives you an opportunity to examine why this is the case. You get a chance to read about (convincingly discredited!) biological theories which argue that certain races are more predisposed to committing crime as well as new developments in race and crime with the increased criminalisation of muslim men. It is both interesting and very relevant given the recent controversy surrounding the admission of black men into Cambridge (



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NOTE – the third section on race and crime is good because its relevant – however it does draw attention to potential reasons why minority students might not want to apply to oxford (even though the article is positive, it still highlights fewer communities of minority students, which could put students off applying)

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