SOAS University of London

MP David Lammy to direct new SOAS Project for Carceral Policy, Policing and Race

5 August 2021
David Lammy SOAS

The Rt Hon David Lammy MP has been appointed Professor of Practice at the SOAS School of Law, Gender and Media, to launch and head a new initiative:  the SOAS Project for Carceral Policy, Policing and Race. 

The new Project will undertake a range of activities – investigative, educational, consultative, policy advisory, advocatory— and organise a network of academic researchers, public servants, practitioners, professionals and activists united in their concerns over the role of race in prison and criminal justice systems and processes across the globe.

On the threshold of the third decade of the new millennium, we have witnessed a renewed sense of urgency over the abiding, ubiquitous and iniquitous salience of race across multiple domains of modern life—education, housing, health, welfare, and politics among them-- and across multiple societies in the Global North but also the Global South.  The toxic effects of racialisation are no more starkly and dismayingly evident than in the grossly disproportionate numbers of Black, Asian, Indigenous and minority ethnic individuals at the receiving end of police intimidation and force, caught up in criminal justice systems as suspects or defendants, and serving periods of pre-trial detention or custodial sentences after conviction.

The Project will address and investigate this phenomenon in a broadly comparative and interdisciplinary framework, looking beyond the default cases (for criminological and sociological research) of the US and the UK to encompass Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as the traditional African, Asian and Middle Eastern geographic remit of SOAS.  Specifically, in relation to Global Southern societies, but globally as well, the Project will take up issues of intersectionality and the complex interplay of race and ethnicity with class, sexuality, ableism and gender in shaping the skewed demographic patterns of harassment, arrest, detention, prosecution and incarceration.  As well as seeking to come to grips with the spatial and contemporary dimensions of racial bias in criminal justice systems generally, the Project will also analyse the historical, and specifically post-colonial and post-slavery, determinants and conditioning factors.  It will focus on three primary categories of societies, with divergent historical trajectories but strikingly similar race- and class-based patterns of incarceration and police repression:

  1. Settler colonial/post-slavery societies (Australia, NZ, Canada, Brazil, South Africa, US).
  2. Colonising/Slave-trading societies (UK, France, Portugal, Netherlands, Spain, Belgium). 
  3. Formerly colonised societies (Guyana, Kenya, Jamaica, India). 

David is in many ways the man of the hour assuming the task of the hour.  He comes to SOAS Law—comes back, really, having completed his LLB here in 1993—in the context of a long and notable Westminster career as a tireless campaigner for social justice, culminating in his recent appointment as Shadow Minister of Justice, at a critical conjuncture. The disproportionate onslaught of the pandemic on non-white communities has revealed the grievous health consequences of long-standing background inequalities just at the moment of the groundswell for a centuries-overdue racial reckoning heralded by the Black Lives Matter movement. David is superbly equipped and positioned to play a lead role in focussing and channelling scholarly interrogation, activist mobilisation and public concern on prisons and police at this fateful crossroads.

And there is no more fitting plinth for David’s energies and vision in this regard than his alma mater. SOAS boasts the only Global South-facing Law School in the UK.  SOAS academic lawyers expose their students and dedicate their scholarship to law in/from cross-regional and post-colonial contexts (and indeed to understand the UK as one such) and perspectives. In recent years they have been busy exploring racial capitalism, critical race theory, and colonial and post-colonial legalities across the globe, in settings as spatially and temporally disparate as contemporary UN Peacekeeping Operations, HMPPS, 18th century Louisiana and the Greater Senegambia, and 19th century India.  They will work along with David, as with like-minded colleagues and institutional partners South and North, to carry the new project forward. At a moment when SOAS is set to reinvent and reimagine itself as a planetary institution for the twenty-first century under new leadership, David’s inauguration as Professor of Practice and Director of the SOAS SLGM Carceral Policy, Policing and Race Project could not be more timely.