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Ms Catherine Heard

  • Overview



    Catherine joined ICPR in April 2016 to head the World Prison Research Programme. This programme of international comparative research on prisons and imprisonment builds on the work of the World Prison Brief, ICPR's online database providing details of the prison systems of over 220 independent countries and dependent territories. Under the programme, ICPR conducts international comparative research projects on a wide range of subjects, with the overall aim of informing and promoting debate on prisons policy.

    Catherine qualified as a solicitor in 1992 and practised in commercial litigation before moving into the field of human rights protection in cross-border criminal justice in 2008. As head of policy at the NGO Fair Trials, Catherine led the law reform programme for four years. This encompassed policy-oriented research and advocacy on: extradition, procedural defence safeguards, pre-trial detention, EU mutual recognition instruments and Interpol 'red notices'. Catherine built an international network of criminal and cross-border defence lawyers to aid Fair Trials' advocacy by providing concrete evidence of rights infringements experienced by their own clients.

    In 2013 Catherine joined the criminal team of the Law Commission of England and Wales, where she led an 18 month project on hate crime, including publication of a consultation paper and report. The work involved legal and empirical research on the prosecution and sentencing of offences aggravated by hostility on grounds of race, religion, disability, sexual orientation or transgender identity, and on the separate offences of incitement to hatred on grounds of race, religion or sexual orientation.

    Between 2014 and 2016 Catherine worked at the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, the UK partner of the European Prisons Observatory. Here she led an EU-funded research and policy project examining alternatives to custody in eight EU member states. The project followed a previous one conducted by the Observatory assessing prison conditions and national preventive mechanisms in the same group of EU countries.


    • Solicitor, England & Wales, Solicitors Regulatory Authority, 1992
    • LLM, Birkbeck, Univ of London, 2009
    • BA Hons, Classics, University of Cambridge, 1986

    Web profiles

    Honours and awards

    • Winner, Public Engagement Awards , Birkbeck, July 2022


  • Research


    Research interests

    • Prisons and the use of imprisonment; prison labour; detainees' human rights; procedural justice; criminal law; sentencing; restorative justice; hate crime; mental health; alternatives to custody; probation

    Research overview

    I am currently researching the criminalization of poverty and status and its implications for prison systems and penal reform in Africa, the Caribbean, South Asia and the Pacific.

    I am also researching prison labour and the provision of work and employment training for prisoners and prison leavers, with a specific focus on the jurisdictions of the UK, Brazil and the USA.

    I have recently conducted comparative research on the following themes: pre-trial detention; sentencing; prisoner health and healthcare; and the impacts of Covid-19 on prison populations worldwide. 

    For more information on the projects in which this research has been conducted please see under 'Research Projects' below.

    Research Centres and Institutes

    • Snr Research Fellow, Institute for Crime and Justice Policy Research (ICPR)

    Research projects

    Towards effective, sustainable and ethical provision of employment opportunities for incarcerated people

    The criminalization of poverty and status: its implications for prison systems and penal reform in Africa, the Caribbean, South Asia and the Pacific

    Understanding and reducing the use of imprisonment in ten countries

    Understanding and reducing the use of imprisonment in ten countries

  • Supervision and teaching

    Supervision and teaching


    I regularly supervise masters dissertation projects relating to prisons, the use of imprisonment, alternatives to custody and related topics.


    Teaching modules

    • Contemporary Issues in Criminal Justice (LADD059S7)
  • Publications



    Book Section


  • Business and community

    Business and community


    I am happy to receive enquiries from the media on the following topics:

    • Prisons and imprisonment; global prison trends