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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, 64th, 65th, 66th United Nations Commission on Narcotics Drug Meetings as part of the Australian civil society delegation (2019, 2020, 2021, 2022, 2023). 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 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, Halsey, Bowden, Goldsmith. 2023-2028, Tackling Crystal Methamphetamine Supply in Rural and Regional Australia. Australian Research Council – Discovery Project. (DP230100966).

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

Hughes, Ritter, Bowden, Deegan. 2024-2025. Quantifying and expanding alternatives to arrest for personal use and possession of illicit drugs in Australia. Law Foundation of South Australia.

Hughes, Pardal, Hoorens, Kilmer, Agnew-Pauley, Stevens. 2022-2023. International status of decriminalisation of drug use. Swiss Federal Office of Public Health.

Goodwin-Smith, Halsey, Hughes, Tually, Bogomolova, Deegan, Cleary. 2023-2025. Beyond Bars. Centacare Catholic Country.

Hughes, Bowden, Deegan, Cowdery. 2023-2024. Attitudes towards current and alternate cannabis legal regimes in South Australia. Law Foundation of South Australia.

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 (selected)

Australian Research Council Discovery Project - Tackling crystal methamphetamine supply in rural and regional Australia

This project tackles one of the leading drug policy and organised crime issues in Australia, namely the increased availability of crystal methamphetamine (ice) in rural and regional communities. The first study of its kind nationally, it will use an innovative combination of qualitative and quantitative methods across four regional communities in three states (New South Wales, South Australia and Victoria)  to uncover how ice infiltrates regional communities, the drivers and mechanisms and impacts thereof. Expected outcomes include a roadmap to reduce supply and harms, strengthened communities and enhanced international collaborations. With ice use and supply costing the Australian government $5 billion per year, the project stands to provide significant social, public health and economic benefits.

International status of decriminalisation of drug use 

Over the last century international drug control has centred around three conventions which have prohibited and criminalised the production, supply and possession of illicit drugs including cannabis, heroin and cocaine. But, many jurisdictions and countries are now considering alternatives to criminal sanctions for simple drug possession and use. One such alternative is ’decriminalisation’ defined as the removal of laws and policies that define drug use and/or the possession of drugs for personal use as a criminal offence. Spurred by the calls by the Swiss Federal Council to examine alternative approaches that could be employed and a resurgence of calls by the United Nations for countries to consider alternative approaches this project funded by the Swiss Federal Office of Public Helath is critically analysing the latest approaches to depenalisation, diversion, decriminalisation and legalisation of the use and possession of drugs from across the globe, design considerations and evidence on positive and negative effects on public health, public safety and criminal justice systems.

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. 

Supervised Students Successes

  • Dec 2019 Vivienne Moxham-Hall - Deans Award for Outstanding PhD Thesis
  • Dec 2019 Shann Hulme - Deans Award for Outstanding PhD Thesis

Completed Supervisions

Principal Supervisions:
  • Understanding how high-level drug traffickers respond and adapt to changes in supply 
  • Promoting compliance, recovery and desistance: comparative case studies of pre-sentence diversion schemes for drug misusing arrestees in Australia and England
  • An exploration of the roles, contextual circumstances and motivations of female drug traffickers in Australia
  • Conflict theory and street-level drug law enforcement: The use of drug detection dogs in NSW 2008 to 2014
  • Investigating displacement effects as a result of the Sydney, NSW alcohol lockout legislation
  • What do young people living in New South Wales think of current and alternate approaches of regulating cannabis? 
  • The nature and drivers of illicit drug trafficking and production in Myanmar and its future drug policy responses
Associate Supervisions:
  • Investigating the utility of indexes for drug policy analysis
  • The supply and diversion of pharmaceuticals
  • The role of the executive in Australian Commonwealth drug policy following the 1988 Drug Convention
  • Women, drugs and anonymous online markets: A secondary analysis of the Global Drug Survey
  • Legalising cannabis in Australia - a comparative policy analysis of attitudes to cannabis, stigma and help-seeking in the ACT and NSW

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 → …


  • Registered

Research Areas

  • Criminology

Supervisory Interests

  • Alcohol and other drugs
  • Drug policy
  • Drug law reform
  • Drug trafficking
  • Organised crime
  • Public policy
  • Comparative law
  • Crime policy
  • Criminal justice


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