Professor Laura Piacentini

Social Work and Social Policy

Personal statement

Laura Piacentini is a multi-award-winning Professor of Criminology at the School of Social Work and Social Policy at the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow.

A Russian speaker, Laura is the first Westerner to conduct empirical and theoretical research in post-USSR jails. Her doctorate was the first research council funded PhD on incarceration in contemporary Russia and she has been researching and publishing on this subject for nearly thirty years since then. She is also a trained sociologist engaged in multi-disciplinary research that includes fields such as human geography, political science, law, and criminology and has been Co-I or PI on numerous studies of post-Soviet penal culture. With Professor Slade, Laura is the lead on the major prison study funded by ESRC: “In the Gulag’s Shadow: Producing, Consuming and Perceiving prisons in the former USSR”.  This unique project seeks to produce global criminology’s first empirical and theoretical study of Russian penal culture. In 2014, Professor Piacentini was appointed a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and appointed Fellow at "AcademiaNet" for leading European Women Scholars, established by Angela Merkel then the Chancellor of Germany.

Laura co-founded the research cluster Criminal and Social Justice at the School of Social Work and Social Policy with Professor Beth Weaver in 2016 and led on the University’ of Strathclyde’s partnership in the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research that same year where she is also Associate Director

Between 2015 and 2020, she was a Co-Editor-in-Chief of the leading Criminology journal, Criminology & Criminal Justice.

Laura’s next book published by Routledge is out in April 2022. It is called ‘The Virtual Reality of Imprisonment in Russia; “Preparing myself for prison in a contested human rights landscape’ and it is co-authored with Dr Elena Katz (Oxford and Helsinki).


On Twitter:

In the Gulag's Shadow (ESRC): @InGulag

Criminal and Social Justice cluster: @CrimSocJust

Personal account@LauraPiac8


The Virtual Reality of Imprisonment in Russia : "Preparing Myself for Prison" in a Contested Human Rights Landscape
Piacentini Laura, Katz Elena M
Human rights in Russia in the shadow of the gulag : penal transitology as bureaucratic drama
Piacentini Laura
Law & Social Inquiry (2022)
Exploring and explaining non-compliance with community supervision
Weaver Beth, Piacentini Laura, Moodie Kristina, Barry Monica
British Journal of Criminology Vol 61, pp. 434-455 (2021)
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 Vol 19, pp. 221-239 (2017)

More publications


Laura has taught Criminology for nearly thirty years and over this time, she has developed expertise across a wide range of criminological subject areas at UG and PG levels and has supervised dozens of post-graduate students in Criminology.

She leads 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.

Launching in January 2022 will be a new and exciting MSc in Criminology and Social Policy, which will be taught by a range of staff with expertise in Criminology, Social Work and Social Policy at the School of Social Work and Social Policy.

Laura can supervise Criminology PhDs and applications for a PhD are welcomed in the subjects listed above.

Research interests


Laura is recognised, through publications, impact, elite grant capture and academic awards as a world leading Criminologist. She has been publishing in the area of contemporary Russian imprisonment since 1995, having lived and conducted research in numerous prisons. She is a trained Russian speaker.

All her work 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

Laura has been PI or Co-I on many grants and have completed several major ESRC studies on Russian prisons:

Grants funded by the ESRC

  • "In The Gulag's Shadow: Producing, Consuming and Percieving Prisons in the Former USSR)" (2018-2021), Principal Investigator (£735k). The study  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).
  • "Regulating Justice: The dynamics of compliance and breach in criminal justice social work in Scotland", Co-I, with Dr Monica Barry (Law, PI) and Dr Beth Weaver (Social Work and Social Policy, Co-I), 2012-2014, £206k.
  • "Women in the Russian Penal System: The role of distance in the theory and practice of imprisonment in late Soviet and post-Soviet Russia"(ESRC, 2006-2010, £253,000, with Professor Judith Pallot (Oxford, PI) and Dr Dominique Moran, University of Birmingham, Co-I).
  • "Work to Live: The Function of Prison Labour in Russian Prisons" (1997-2001) (ESRC, PI, £45,000);


Grants funded by the AHRC

  • "The Right to Health in Brazilian and Scottish Prisons", 2018-2020 (AHRC and MRC, £180,000), Co-I and Professor Sally Haw (PI).


Grants funded by the Leverhulme Trust

  • "Towards a Sociology of rights consciousness amongst Russian prisoners" (Principal Investigator, £45,000). 


Knowledge Exchange: Laura has advised the United Nations and NGOs on subjects that include forced labour in prisons and Russian political prisoners and asylum seekers. She has advised the Scottish Parliament on rehabilitation in prisons and given papers at diverse international Universities including the University of Nazarbayev, Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan, the University of Harvard, The Higher Education Institute of Smolensk and Moscow State University. She has taught at Russian prison service training colleges, Russian police colleges and at the Central European University, Budapest.


Professional activities

Criminology, Contexture and “Western” Neglect:
East is East
Just Humans Podcast, a conversation between Dr Ali Fraser, Director of SCCJR and Professor Laura Piacentini.
University of Nazarbayev, Astana, Kazakhstan
Visiting researcher
External Examiner, Criminology UK
Recrafting Ethnography

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 - 01-Jan-2023
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

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