Helen Johnston UOH_4722

Professor Helen Johnston

Professor of Criminology

Faculty of Arts, Cultures and Education


01482 465634

Helen Johnston is an expert in the history of crime and punishment from 1750. She has undertaken extensive research on local prisons, convict prisons and licensing/early release mechanisms.

She has researched the experiences of both prisoners and staff and the evolution of prison architecture.

She is also interested in crime and criminal justice heritage and the preservation, presentation and dissemination of crime heritage in museums, archives and heritage sites.

She has been Principal Investigator and Co-Investigator on a range of funded research projects supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the Economic and Social Research Council and the British Academy.


Research Interests

  • History of crime and punishment

  • Local prisons

  • Convict prisons

  • Licensing/parole (early release mechanisms)

  • Prison architecture (history of)

  • Prison and penal reform

  • Experiences of prisoners

  • Whole life history methodology

  • Experiences of prison staff

  • Refuges and semi-penal institutions for women

  • Borstals

  • Crime and criminal justice heritage and dark tourism

  • Reformatories and industrial schools

  • Magistrates and local government in 19th century

Research groups

Current research:
British Academy, 'Invalids', Disability and the Modern Prison, 1850-1930 (with Dr Jo Turner, Staffordshire University), May 2018-Oct 2019.

Arts and Humanities Research Council Follow-on Funding for Impact and Engagement-funded project, Our Criminal Ancestors (PI, Johnston, CI Professor Heather Shore, Leeds Beckett) 2017-18.

Expert knowledge and support to the public in researching criminal ancestors and crime history - see www.ourcriminalancestors.org

Previous collaborations:

Economic and Social Research Council, The Costs of Imprisonment: A Longitudinal Study, 1853-1940 (RES-062-23-3102), with Professor Barry Godfrey (Liverpool University) and Dr David Cox (now at University of Wolverhampton).

British Academy, Holloway Prison for Women, 1902-1945, with Professor Yvonne Jewkes (now at University of Brighton).

Arts and Humanities Research Council, Research Networking Scheme-funded project, Our Criminal Past: Caring for the Future, with Dr Heather Shore (Leeds Beckett University).


Johnston, H. (2018) 'Imprisoned mothers in Victorian England, 1853-1900: Motherhood, identity and the convict prison', Criminology & Criminal Justice: An International Journal, Pre-published February 13, 2018, DOI: 10.1177/1748895818757833 link here: http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1748895818757833?journalCode=crjb

Johnston, H., Godfrey, B. S. & D. J. Cox (2016), Victorian Convicts: 100 Criminals of the Victorian Age, Barnsley: Pen & Sword. (http://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/Victorian-Convicts-Hardback/p/11744)

Johnston, H. (2016) ‘Prison Histories, 1770s-1950s: Continuities and Contradictions’ in Y. Jewkes, J. Bennett & B. Crewe (ed.) Handbook on Prisons, Second Edition, Abingdon: Routledge, p24-39.

Johnston, H. (2015), Crime in England, 1815-1880: Experiencing the Criminal Justice System, Abingdon: Routledge. https://www.routledge.com/Crime-in-England-1815-1880-Experiencing-the-criminal-justice-system/Johnston/p/book/9781843929536

Cox, D., Godfrey, B., Johnston, H. and J. Turner (2014) ‘On Licence: Understanding Punishment, Recidivism and Desistance in Penal Policy, 1853-1945' in V. Miller and J. Campbell (eds.) Transnational Penal Cultures: New Perspectives on Discipline, Punishment and Desistance, Abingdon: Routledge, pp.184-201.

Full list


Programmes taught on (2019)

Modules list

  • Histories of Punishment

  • ‘Prostitutes, Pickpockets and Peelers’: Crime & Policing, 1750-1950

  • Contemporary Imprisonment

  • Dangerousness, Offenders and Public Protection

  • Gender, Sexualities and Crime

  • Crime Control and Community Safety Hub

Research PhDs

I welcome applications in the fields of punishment, penal policy and contemporary imprisonment as well as studies on the history of crime, policing and punishment.

Completed PhDs 

Maria De Angelis (2012), Trafficking and Prostitution: Victimhood and Agency (with Dr Majella Kilkey)

Samson Chan (2013), Colonial Penality: A Case Study of Hong Kong Penal Policy, 1945-1997 (with Professor Peter Young)

William Davies (2015), The Pains of Imprisonment and Resettlement for Short Term Prisoners (with Professor Peter Young)

Helen Nichols (2016), Adult Male Prisoners Experiences of Education (with Professor Gerry Johnstone)

Current PhD supervisions 

Rachel Dixon-Goodall, Expert Evidence in Cases of Infanticide, 1688-1955

Marion Wilson, Grief and Bereavement in Prison

Alicia Kidd, Conflict and Contemporary Slavery

Rhiannon Pickin, Emotions, Perceptions and Responses to Crime and Penal Heritage (AHRC Heritage Consortium with Leeds Beckett University)

Lucie Wade, Juvenile Crime, Punishment and Reform in the West Riding of Yorkshire, 1856-1914 (AHRC Heritage Consortium with Leeds Beckett University)


Teaching awards and accolades

  • Fellow of Higher Education Academy

  • Higher Education Teaching Certificate, Keele University

  • Higher Education Associate Teaching Certificate, Keele University

Professional highlights

Academic qualifications

  • BA (Hons) Criminal Justice with Economics, Liverpool John Moores University

  • MA Criminology, Keele University

  • PhD Criminology, Keele University

External roles

Member of ESRC Peer Review College.

Co-Chair of the British Society of Criminology Regional Group for Yorkshire and Humberside.

Member of British Crime Historians Committee.

Editorial board: British Journal of Criminology, Prison Service Journal; editorial advisory group: Law, Crime & History

External Examiner:

  • BA Criminology & Criminal Justice, Leeds University (2016 -)

  • MA Criminology & Criminal Justice, Keele University (2014 -)

  • BA Criminology programme, Leeds Metropolitan University (2010 - 14)

  • Interdisciplinary Masters programmes, English and History, Edge Hill University (2011 - 2015)

Committee Member of CaP (Crime and Punishment Collections Network). This is a network of museums, libraries, archives and heritage sites concerned with the topic of crime and punishment.

Awards and accolades

  • Fellow of Royal Historical Society

  • Fellow of Higher Education Academy