Associate Professor Caitlin Hughes

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Personal profile

Research Biography

Caitlin is an Associate Professor in criminology and drug policy and Matthew Flinders Fellow at the Centre for Crime Policy and Research, Flinders University. Caitlin has spent 18 years researching drug and alcohol policy, including 12.5 years at the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, UNSW, working as part of the Drug Policy Modelling Program - one of the leading drug policy research centres in the world. Having joined Flinders University in July 2019 her research seeks to advance Australian and international drug policy by improving the evidence-base into the effects of different legislative and law enforcement approaches to drug use and supply and working directly with policy makers. Her research focuses on 1) drug laws and drug law reform (including depenalisation, decriminalisation, legalisation), 2) criminal justice policies (including policing and alternatives to arrest) and 3) drug markets, outlining what laws and policies are deployed, how they operate in practice, the impacts of this investment and identifying avenues for more effective responses that can reduce drug-related health, social and criminal justice harms.

Caitlin engages extensively with policy makers, law enforcement and health officials from across and outside of Australia, including the Commonwealth Department of Health, the Australian Federal Police,  Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission, Australian Customs and Border Control,NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, NSW Police, Victoria Police, ACT Police, ACT Health Directorate, the Irish Department of Justice and Equality and Department of Health, the British Colombia Police, United Nations Development Programme and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. She has been a member of the Australian Civil Society for United Nations Drug Policy since 2019 and attended the 62nd, 63rd and 64th United Nations Commission on Narcotics Drug Meetings as part of the Australian civil society delegation (2019, 2020, 2021). Her work has contributed to many policy and practice reforms, including the expansion of drug diversion programs for use/ possess offenders and the reform of drug trafficking thresholds law “to ensure laws target traffickers not users”.

Caitlin is also Visiting Fellow at the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, UNSW, Senior Research Associate, International Drug Policy Unit, London School of Economics and Vice-President of the International Society for the Study of Drug Policy and is on the editorial board for the International Journal of Drug Policy and the Journal of Illicit Economies and Development.

Research Interests

Nationally Competitive Category 1 Grants 

Hughes, Stevens, Barratt, Ferris, Maier, Winstock. 2020-2022. Building procedural justice in Australian street-level drug law enforcement. Australian Institute of Criminology, Criminology Research Grants.

Hughes, Ritter, Weatherburn, Maccoun. 2014-2016. Drug law enforcement policy: The deterrent effects of Australian policing strategies. Australian Research Council – Discovery Project (DP150100910).

Ritter, Hughes, Hoppe. 2013-2014. The science-policy interface in policy theories: A comparative case study of street-level policing for illicit drugs. Australian Research Council – Discovery Project (DP140100219).

Shanahan, Hughes, McSweeney. 2014-2015. Australian police diversion for cannabis offences: Assessing program outcomes and cost-effectiveness. National Drug Law Enforcement Research Fund. 

Hughes, Chalmers, Bright, McFadden. 2013-2014. Trafficking in multiple commodities: Exposing Australia’s poly-drug and poly-crime networks. National Drug Law Enforcement Research Fund. 

Hughes, Ritter, Cowdery. 2011. Using evidence to evaluate Australian drug trafficking thresholds: Proportionate, equitable and just? Criminology Research Council. 

Ritter, Chalmers, Hughes. 2008-2009. Examining the effectiveness of different types of law enforcement interventions directed towards methamphetamine. National Drug Law Enforcement Research Fund. 

Selected Tenders

Ahmad, Kamarulzaman, Hughes. 2021. Determining drug purchasing and usage trends in Malaysia. United Nations Development Programme.

Hughes, Goldsmith, Halsey, Goudie. 2021. Triangulating wastewater and a prospective survey of drug consumption: A pilot study. Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission. 

Deegan, McDonald, McDonald, Hughes. 2021. Extended joint criminal enterprise: Public perceptions of appropriate sentences for murder in South Australia. The Law Foundation of South Australia.

Hughes, Bright, Gundur. 2020. The impacts of COVID-19 on illicit drug trafficking and supply in Australia.  Flinders University College of Business, Government and Law COVID-19 Grant Scheme. 

Barratt, Hughes, Ferris, Winstock. 2019. Patterns of emergency medical treatment seeking following alcohol and other drug use among Australian festival-goers. NSW Coroner.

Hughes, Hulme, Ritter. 2019. The relationship between price, purity and population-level drug-related harm: A rapid review. Australian Institute of Criminology. 

Stevens, Hughes, Hulme, Cassidy. 2018. Review of approaches taken in Ireland and in other jurisdictions to simple possession drug offences. Government of Ireland - Department of Justice and Equality.

Hughes, Ritter, Mazerolle, Seear. 2018. Criminal justice responses relating to personal possession of illicit drugs. Commonwealth Department of Health. 

Hughes, Shanahan, Ritter, Vuong. 2017. Developing a program logic and evaluation framework for an ACT Drug and Alcohol Court. ACT Justice and Community Safety Directorate.

Shanahan, Hughes. 2017. Cannabis cautioning in NSW. NSW Police. 

Hughes, Ritter, Shanahan, McDonald. 2012. Consultant to evaluate the Australian Capital Territory Drug Diversion programs. ACT Health Directorate. 

Current projects

Determining drug purchasing and usage patterns in Malaysia

For more than five decades Malaysia has been grappling with the problem of illicit drug use through the lens of criminalisation, but there are growing harms associated with this response including incarceration, family breakdown, infectious diseases and stigmatisation of people who use drugs. Evidence-based drug thresholds quantities that distinguish personal use from supply is one core requirement for drug law reform. This project, funded by the United Nations Development Programme,  will conduct a pilot threshold study with people who inject drugs and co-design an official drug threshold study with key government and community stakeholders. This will start the process of establishing evidence-based drug threshold quantities in Malaysia. 

Triangulating wastewater and a prospective survey of alcohol and other drug consumption - a pilot study

Wastewater analysis (WWA) has rapidly cemented itself as an important tool to capture trends in drug markets based on analyses of the drug metabolites in wastewater (Castiglioni et al, 2016; Feng, et al 2018; Zuccato et al, 2008). In the Australian context the National Wastewater Drug Monitoring Program now covers 13.1 million people or an estimated 56% of the Australian population, with annual reports on trends released four times a year. But, best practice WWA is increasingly pointing to the need to triangulate WWA data with epidemiological surveys  to capture other important variables that are critical to inform policy and practice (e.g. Prichard et al, 2021). Funded by the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission this project is conducting a prospective 90-day survey of drug consumption and triangulating the survey data against wastewater for the same town and time period. It will provide unique information about the value add of combining these two datasets. 

Building procedural justice in Australian street-level drug law enforcement 

Drug law enforcement subsumes 64% of Australian Government expenditure on illicit drugs, but current approaches are often ineffective and counterproductive. New research suggests this may reflect the perceived legitimacy of approaches. This study will use a purpose-built module in the 2019 Global Drug Survey to: assess how procedurally just Australian policing approaches are perceived by people who use drugs; benchmark procedural justice levels against other Western nations; and identify predictors of and methods to heighten procedural justice, police cooperation and offending reductions. This will build Australian capacity for more effective law enforcement responses to drug-related crime.

External positions

Visiting Fellow, National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre

1 Jul 2019 → …

Vice-President, International Society for the Study of Drug Policy

22 May 2019 → …


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