Research Projects

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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, 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 a member of the Justice and Safety Human Rights Action Group (led by the Scottish Human Rights Commission and aimed at taking forward the Scottish National Action Plan for Human Rights), and is a member of the Scottish Government’s Justice Leaders Network.

She is a member of the Editorial Boards of the British Journal of Criminology, Youth Justice and  European Journal of Criminology. Her previous teaching experience has covered several criminology courses at undergraduate and postgraduate level (see below) including the MSc in Criminology and Criminal Justice.



University of Edinburgh


School of Law
University of Edinburgh
Old College, South Bridge

Research Themes

Evidence, Statistics and Trends

Young People and Youth Justice

March 2017

Criminological Knowledge and the Politics of Impact: Implications for Researching Juvenile Justice

Understanding youth violence: the mediating effects of gender, poverty and vulnerability

Purpose This article aims to improve our understanding of youth violence in the early teenage years by exploring the mediating […]


The Reproduction of Poverty


Poverty Matters


The Case for Diversion and Minimum Necessary Intervention


Youth Crime and Justice in Scotland

This book aims to fill a gap for a text that offers a critically informed analysis and understanding of crime […]


Youth Justice? The Impact of System Contact on Patterns of Desistance from Offending

This chapter assesses the effectiveness of the Scottish model of youth justice in the context of a growing body of […]


Youth Crime and Justice: Key messages from the Edinburgh Study of Youth Transitions and Crime

Based on findings from the Edinburgh Study of Youth Transitions and Crime, this article challenges the evidence-base which policy-makers have […]


Audiences, Borders, Architecture: The Contours of Control

Chapter one of this book is produced by Sarah Armstrong and Lesley McAra and is entitled: Audience, borders, architecture: the […]


Perspectives on Punishment: The Contours of Control

Takes a multidisciplinary approach to the subject of penal policy and criminology Includes a mixture of both empirical research and […]

No Projects Available

10th August 2016

SCCJR at the Edinburgh Fringe: Hug a Thug returns!

18th August 2015

Hug a Thug? Crime and punishment debate at the Edinburgh Fringe

CJS Seminar: Lesley McAra and Susan McVie

3rd April 2024


Edinburgh Law School

To love or to punish? That is the question

11th August 2022