Criminology, Sentencing And The Penal System (CSPS) Module At Cambridge

We will go over everything you need to know about the Criminology, Sentencing and The Penal System module offered to Law students at the University of Cambridge.

Author: Irfan Allana

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Criminology, Sentencing and the Penal System (CSPS) is currently the only non-Law module that Law students are allowed to take at Cambridge.

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. 

The module is incredibly popular with Law students, but what makes it so popular? 

What Is Criminology, Sentencing and the Penal System?

The purpose of the module is to introduce students to contemporary theoretical debates on the purposes of punishment, and the aims of specific parts of the criminal justice system. 

Through this, students’ ability to handle normative issues in relation to legal and sociological topics more generally will be enhanced, and it will enable them to assess in an informed manner policy proposals from government, pressure groups and others. 

Furthermore, students will be introduced to the reading and understanding of the empirical research materials relating to aspects of what is known about what works with offenders – sentencing, criminal justice and the penal system in England and Wales. 

Thereby, this enables students to appreciate more generally the potential relevance of empirical research in the study of legal systems and social problems in modern societies. 

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What Is Covered in CSPS?

CSPS aims to give students an informed and critical understanding of key issues in law, criminal justice and penal policy in England and Wales. It does so in five ways: 

By helping students to read the evidence for patterns of crime and for pathways into and out of offending in the context of i.) fads, fashions and political ideas in criminal justice, ii.) out knowledge of individual, family and situational risk factors, and iii.) offender rehabilitation and desistance from crime.

By looking at the principles of punishment and at the empirical evidence for the effectiveness of different crime reduction strategies. 

By considering the legal framework of sentencing and the theoretical and practical framework of sentencing and the theoretical and practical dilemmas facing judges and magistrates. 


By examining some of the challenges faced by the criminal justice and penal system in dealing with specific groups of offends such as adolescents, women and those who are regarded as ‘dangerous’. 


There is consideration of community penalties, prisons and parole, and broader questions of gender, equality and fairness in contemporary criminal justice. 

The CSPS Syllabus

The CSPS syllabus covers ten different topics which students will get to choose between. 

Crime and punishment in modern Britain

Characteristics of modern Britain. What is crime? Trends in crime and data sources. Pathways into and out of crime: i) the causes of crime, ii) criminal careers (including age-related crime patterns); Pathways out: i) crime and the life-course, ii) individual and family factors, iii) community and situational factors. Desistance theories.

Routes into the criminal justice system

Policing decisions in regard to stops and searches on the street, discretion to divert people who have offended to out of court options or to prosecute, and an introduction to legitimacy (a theme which runs throughout the course).

Dealing with offenders

The sentencing framework: law and practice – focusing on fines, community orders, imprisonment (both determinate and life sentences); special sentences for serious and dangerous offenders; ‘ancillary’ orders.

Theories of punishment and links with sentencing

What penal theories underpin sentencing? (why do we punish and what are the aims of sentencing?); Deterrence and Incapacitation; Desert; Rehabilitation; Restorative Justice.

Justice in Practice 1

Community Penalties. What works with offenders in the community, what is meaningful and other issues relating to community penalties (e.g. the failure of privatisation); the complexities of supervision.

Justice in Practice 2

Imprisonment. Offenders in prison and other prison issues (e.g. privatisation, imprisonment rates).

Justice in Practice 3

Dealing with specific groups of offenders; what works with BAME offenders and issues of fairness and justice: Female offenders. What works with women and issues relating to fairness and justice.

Justice in Practice 4

Young offenders. What works with young offenders and issues relating to fairness and justice.

Justice in Practice 5

Realities, risks and Recall. Early release and parole following custody; resettlement in the community; recall to prison.

Justice in Practice 6

Justice reconsidered.

How Is CSPS Taught?

The module is taught through the means of lectures and supervisions. 

With the module forming part of the HSPS Tripos, they operate a centralised supervision system whereby students are allocated supervisors by the course organiser – unless College Directors of Studies have made other arrangements. 

Each student will have nine supervisions, plus one revision supervision totalling ten supervisions overall. 

Unlike some HSPS supervisions, students are not expected to produce an essay for each supervision; rather there is an expectation of two essays per term plus other supervision tasks (e.g. a five-minute presentation on a criminal justice issue).


By taking the Criminology, Sentencing and the Penal System module, it allows Law students to have a more informed and critical understanding of key issues in the Law in England and Wales. 

Having this wider understanding of the overall criminal justice system will help those studying Law grasp a stronger understanding of what they are working towards. 

By studying alongside non-Law students it would also likely open different views and opinions on the Law which they had not previously considered. 

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