School of Sociology and Social Policy

Researcher Profile - Philippa Tomczak

Philippa Tomczak

Philippa Tomczak

Unsafe prisons mean unsafe societies


Philippa Tomczak is a Principal Research Fellow (Associate Professor).

As an academic, you can do meaningful work and create the opportunity design your own working day and career. That's a fairly unrivalled opportunity.

How would you explain your research?

I research imprisonment. I'm particularly interested in prison suicide and means of regulating imprisonment rates and conditions.

I have been recently awarded a £1.1m UKRI Future Leaders Fellowship, my research project aims to reconceptualise prison regulation for safer societies through multidisciplinary academic innovation and sustained collaboration with local and (trans)national practitioners from different sectors (eg public, voluntary), regulators, policymakers, and prisoners.

I also hold a £1.3m European Research Council Starting Grant which seeks to develop the first ever model of regulation across different detention institutions, in order to improve health and safety in the criminal justice system, benefiting detainees and society more broadly. In addition, I coordinate this research group.

What inspired you to pursue this area?

I trained originally as a Geographer at the University of Oxford. After an optional module on Forensic Geography I moved over to an MSc in Criminology and Criminal Justice at Oxford, and then did my PhD in Criminology at University of Manchester. My PhD interest was originally volunteer Samaritan Prison Listeners, but I got sidetracked into the penal voluntary sector more broadly.

How will your research/work affect the average person?

Prisons are a universal institution. Unsafe prisons mean unsafe societies, and the consequences of unsafe prisons are absorbed by our societies. My research aims to improve prison safety and prevent deaths in prisons for the benefit of prisoners, prisoners’ families, prison staff and societies outside.

How does your research/experience influence your teaching?

I am deeply committed to the advancement of my research projects so am always trying to recruit more researchers and collaborators - in teaching, meetings and speaking opportunities!

What's been the greatest moment of your career so far?

I'm proud that I have managed to secure £2.4m of hugely competitive research funding as a social scientist who works on imprisonment.

What's the biggest challenge in your field?

Probably poor attitudes to research expertise, as expressed by politicians and members of the public. This leads to mistrust and a lack of collaboration, and lots of unnecessary arguments.

What advice would you give to someone considering an undergraduate degree in sociology?

As an academic, you can do meaningful work and create the opportunity design your own working day and career. That's a fairly unrivalled opportunity.

School of Sociology and Social Policy

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