Professor Laura Piacentini

Social Work and Social Policy

Personal statement

Laura Piacentini PhD, FRSE, Fellow Academianet

BA Sociology (2:1 Honours), MA Criminology (First Class, University of Keele), PgDip Russian Language (University of Strathclyde) and PhD Criminology & Sociology (University of Wales, Bangor).

I am a Criminologist and prison Sociologist. My work, broadly defined, is concerned with punishment and society studies.

I am a founding member of the cluster Criminal and Social Justice at the School of Social Work and Social Policy. I am also Associate Director of the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research and University of Strathclyde Lead with Dr Beth Weaver.

I am the Co-Ed-in-Chief of the leading Criminology journal, Criminology & Criminal Justice.

In 2014 I was appointed a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and a Fellow of Academianet, which is the EU Research Fellowship established by the Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel to recognise and support the research leadership of European Women Scholars. 



The virtual reality of Russian prisons : the impact of social media on prisoner agency and prison structure in Russian prisons
Piacentini Laura, Katz Elena
Oñati Socio-Legal Series Vol 8, pp. 183-204 (2018)
Employment and Employability in Scottish Prisons : A Research Briefing Paper
Piacentini Laura, Weaver Beth, Jardine Cara
Carceral framing of human rights in Russian prisons
Piacentini Laura, Katz Elena
Punishment and Society (2016)
"Get in, get out, go back?" : transitioning from prison ethnography to prison policy research in Russia
Piacentini Laura
The Palgrave Handbook of Prison Ethnography (2015) (2015)
Architecture and attachment : carceral collectivism and the problem of prison reform in Russia and Georgia
Piacentini Laura, Slade Gavin
Theoretical Criminology Vol 19, pp. 179-197 (2015)
Punishment and parade : the cultural form of penal exile in Russia
Piacentini Laura
Transnational Penal Cultures (2014) (2014)

more publications


I have taught Criminology for over twenty years and am currently the only Professor of Criminology at the University. I have developed expertise across a wide range of criminological subject areas at under-graduate and Masters levels. I have supervised dozens of post-graduate students in Criminology.

I lead on all Criminology teaching at the School of Social Work and Social Policy where Criminology is integrated into first, second and third year social policy modules. In development is a new MSc in Criminology and Social Policy, which will be taught by a range of staff with expertise in Criminology and Criminal Justice at the School.

I can supervise Criminology PhDs and applications for a PhD are welcomed in the following areas: criminology, sociology, prison sociology, international criminal justice systems, Russian criminal justice policy and gender and criminal justice.

Research interests

Research: I am the first Westerner to conduct theoretical and empirical research in Russian prisons and I am recognised, through publications, impact, elite grant capture and academic awards as a world leading Criminologist. I have been publishing in the area of contemporary Russian imprisonment for nearly twenty-five years, having lived and conducted research in numerous prisons. I am trained Russian speaker.

All of my work is multi-disciplinary and involves substantial leadership of international teams involving the subjects of sociology, Russian Area Studies, history, human rights and political science. I am committed to radical, feminist, creative and theoretically informed research methods.


Research grants

I have been PI or Co-I on many grants and have completed two major ESRC studies on Russian prisons: Prison Labour in Post-Soviet Prisons (1997-2001), and the first major study into women’s imprisonment in Russia in 2011, funded by the ESRC (with Professor Judith Pallot (Oxford) and Dr Dominique Moran (Birmingham)).


ESRC 2018 - 2021 Principal Investigator (circa £735k). The study, 'In the Gulag's Shadow: Producing, Consuming and Perceiving prisons in the Former USSR', is the first study of its kind in world Criminology.  The team includes Dr Gavin Slade (Lead Co-I and Associate Professor, University of Nazarbayev, Astana, Kazakhstan); Professor Elena Olmenchenko (Professor of Sociology, Higher School of Economics, St Petersburg), and Professor Alexei Trochev (Professor of Criminology, University of Nazarbayev, Astana, Kazakhstan).


AHRC and MRC      2018 - 2020 Co-Investigator (circa £180k): 'The Right to Health in Brazilian and Scottish Prisons' (AHRC and MRC), Professor Sally Haw (PI).


Leverhulme    2015 -2017 Principal Investigator (circa £45k): ‘Towards a Sociology of rights consciousness amongst Russian prisoners’ with Dr Elena Katz at the University of Oxford. See


ESRC 2012 – 2014 Co-Investigator (circa £206k): ‘Regulating Justice: The dynamics of compliance and breach in criminal justice social work in Scotland’ with Dr Monica Barry (Law, PI) and Dr Beth Weaver (Social Work and Social Policy, Co-I).


ESRC 2006-  2010 Co-Investigator (circa £253k): 'Women in the Russian Penal System: The role of distance in the theory and practice of imprisonment in late Soviet and post-Soviet Russia' with Professor Judith Pallot (Oxford, PI) and Dr Dominique Moran, University of Birmingham, Co-I).


Knowledge Exchange: I have advised the United Nations and NGOs on subjects that include forced labour in prisons and Russian political prisoners and asylum seekers. I have advised the Scottish Parliament on rehabilitation in prisons. I have given papers at diverse Universities including the Universities of Harvard, The Higher Education Institute of Smolensk and Moscow State University. In 2012, I taught at the Central European University, Budapest.

Book Awards: My first book, Surviving Russian Prisons: Punishment, Politics and Economy in Transition won the British Society of Criminology Book of the Year award in 2005. My second book (co-authored with Professor Judith Pallot (Oxford) titled Gender, Geography and Punishment: the Experience of Women in Carceral Russia, won the Heldt Prize for book of the year at the American Association of Slavonic Studies and was nominated for the Book of the Year 2013 by Pushkin House London and the Davis Centre at Harvard University

Article Awards: Theoretical Criminology with Gavin Slade, Article of the Year, 2016, 'Architecture and Attachment: Carceral Collectivism and the problem and prison reform in Russia and Georgia.

In preparation is Prison Netnography and Human Rights in Russian Prisons. Routledge (co-authored with Dr Elena Katz).

Professional activities

University of Nazarbayev, Astana, Kazakhstan
Visiting researcher
External Examiner, Criminology UK
Recrafting Ethnography
Appointed to Advisory Board, University of Oxford (Event)
The European Prison Forum
Global Right to Health, Rio de Janiero

more professional activities


In the Gulag's Shadow: Producing, Consuming and Perceiving Prisons in the Former Soviet Union
Piacentini, Laura (Principal Investigator)
01-Jan-2018 - 31-Jan-2021
In the Gulag's Shadow: Producing, Consuming and Perceiving Prisons in the Former USSR
Piacentini, Laura (Principal Investigator) Slade, Gavin (Principal Investigator) Olmenchenko, Elena (Co-investigator) Trochev, Alexei (Co-investigator)
This a major (circa £735k), new comparative study of two of the largest penal systems of the former Soviet Union: Russia and Kazakhstan. It advances knowledge of one of the most extraordinary systems of penal power, the Gulag, and seeks to understand it's legacies today in policy, in practice and in feelings and attitudes to punishment in this udner-researched world region.
01-Jan-2018 - 01-Jan-2021
Right to Health in Prison AHRC-MRC Global Public Health Partnership Call Oct 2017
Piacentini, Laura (Principal Investigator)
01-Jan-2018 - 31-Jan-2019
A Sociology of Rights Consciousness amongst Prisoners in Russia
Piacentini, Laura (Principal Investigator)
01-Jan-2015 - 28-Jan-2017
AHRC - Doctoral Training Partnership Scotland | Gavin, Mhairi
Piacentini, Laura (Principal Investigator) McDiarmid, Claire (Co-investigator) Gavin, Mhairi (Research Co-investigator)
01-Jan-2014 - 22-Jan-2018
Regulating Justice: The dynamics of compliance and breach in criminal justice social work in Scotland
Barry, Monica (Principal Investigator) Piacentini, Laura (Co-investigator) Weaver, Beth (Co-investigator)
"Over 40 per cent of people serving community punishments are subject to breach (not complying with a disposal because of further offending or failing to keep to conditions), yet the processes of compliance and breach are little understood or researched. This study of breach and compliance in Scotland uses quantitative and qualitative data to explore how offenders and professionals interpret compliance and breach; what factors relating to policy, practice and offender characteristics affect compliance and breach; and how breach policy and practice can be enhanced so as to encourage the cessation of offending.

A literature review, the collection of aggregate data nationally and 548 interviews with professionals and offenders in 3 case study areas are the 3 methods to be used. A Research Advisory Group has been set up and Strathclyde University's Ethics Committee has approved the research methods.

The study seeks to impact politically (boosting confidence in criminal justice social work amongst the judiciary, offenders and the wider public), economically (ensuring that social work engagement with offenders works to secure their cooperation and reintegration), and operationally (offering new ways for supervising social workers to engage meaningfully with offenders subject to community-based disposals and post-custodial orders)."
01-Jan-2012 - 30-Jan-2015

more projects


Social Work and Social Policy
Lord Hope Building

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