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Personal profile


Lesley McAra is an alumna of the University of Edinburgh and of the Open University. She began her career as a researcher in the Scottish Office where she led a major programme of research evaluating social work criminal justice services. In 1995, she joined the University of Edinburgh as Lecturer in Criminology, was promoted to Senior Lecturer in 2005, and to the Chair of Penology in 2009. Her inaugural lecture can be listened to here: https://media.ed.ac.uk/media/Crime+and+Punishment+in+a+Small+Nation+-+Why+Penology+Matters+%28audio%29/1_h5xmgzn0

Lesley is a former Dean of the School of Law, the first woman to be appointed to that post. She is currently a member of the Centre for Law and Society and the Global Justice Academy and an Associate Director of the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research. She was also the founder of the Empirical Legal Research Network, a cross-University initiative aimed at facilitating partnership-working across different disciplines, pooling expertise and functioning as a resource bank for researchers at all levels of career. In 2014 she founded, and is currently Co-convenor of, the Leadership Foundation for Women in the Legal Profession.

Lesley’s research interests lie in the general areas of the sociology of punishment and the sociology of law and deviance. Particular interests include: youth crime and juvenile justice; gender justice and community well-being; the politics of crime control; and comparative criminal justice. She is Co-Director (with Susan McVie and David Smith) of the Edinburgh Study of Youth Transitions and Crime, a longitudinal programme of research on pathways into and out of offending for a cohort of around 4,300 young people. Funded by grants from the ESRC (R00237157, R000239150), the Nuffield Foundation and the Scottish Government, this study forms the evidence-base for the ‘Whole System Approach’ to juvenile justice which is currently being implemented across Scotland. Study findings have also been utilised in penal reform campaigns both nationally and internationally. Lesley is currently a member of the Human Rights Action Group on Justice and Safety and the Scottish Government’s Justice Leaders Network.

In her more recent research, The Old Town Story-telling Project, Lesley has been pioneering methods of co-production and exploring the role of the performance arts in promoting community safety and well-being. Her overall ethos is to conduct research with, in and for the community, a mode of knowledge infusion which involves partnering the University with the community within which it is located, utilising the research evidence to promote and campaign for positive social and political change, and undertaking engagement and outreach work as a fundamental part of the research process. In 2013, Lesley was a joint winner (with Susan McVie) of the Howard League for Penal Reform Research Medal which celebrates high quality research from ‘new thinking’ and ‘radical researchers’ who have changed penal policy and practice. This was followed in 2016 with the Chancellor’s award for research impact which honours colleagues at the University of Edinburgh whose outstanding research has made a demonstrable contribution to society. She was awarded a CBE, in the New Year's Honours List 2018, for services to Criminology.

Lesley is Editor-in-Chief (with Ursula Kilkelly) of Youth Justice and is Co-editor (with Alison Liebling and Shadd Maruna) of the Oxford Handbook of Criminology. Her previous teaching experience has covered several criminology courses at undergraduate and postgraduate level including the MSc in Criminology and Criminal Justice. She welcomes applications from doctoral candidates in any area of her expertise.

Research Groups

Lesley is currently a member of the Centre for Law and Societyand the Global Justice Academy  and an Associate Director of the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research.


Lesley's previous teaching experience has covered several criminology courses at undergraduate and postgraduate level including the MSc in Criminology and Criminal Justice.


College Research Themes

  • Childhood & Youth


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