Sarah Turnbull

Assistant Professor
Photo of Dr. Sarah Turnbull

519-888-4567 x 46648

PhD Criminology and Socio-Legal Studies (University of Toronto) 

MA Criminology and Socio-Legal Studies (University of Toronto)

BA (Simon Fraser University)


Faculty member, Balsillie School for International Affairs, and Co-lead of the Migration, Mobilities, and Social Politics Research Cluster

Research, teaching, and supervision areas

  • Border criminology
  • Immigration detention and deportation
  • Punishment, parole, and re-entry
  • Postcolonial, antiracist, and feminist thought
  • Critical border and migration studies
  • Qualitative research methods
  • Criminology and sociolegal studies 


I’m a criminologist and sociolegal studies scholar interested in the intersections between migration, criminal justice, and social justice. I was first educated on the unceded traditional territories of the shíshálh and Skwxwú7mesh Nations (Sunshine Coast, BC) and went on to undergraduate studies at Simon Fraser University, located on the unceded traditional territories of the Coast Salish peoples, and then to graduate school at the University of Toronto, located on the traditional land of the Huron-Wendat, the Seneca, and the Mississaugas of the Credit.

After completing my PhD, I was a postdoctoral research fellow at the Centre for Criminology, University of Oxford (2013-2016) and then Lecturer in Criminology at Birkbeck, University of London (2016-2019). I joined the University of Waterloo in 2019. Before becoming an academic I held several jobs, including working for the federal government, as a research assistant at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, and in the warehouse of a book publisher.

Current Research

My current research focuses on two main areas: (1) immigration detention and deportation; and (2) punishment. I’m interested in how race, gender, and other intersecting social relations of power shape migration control and penality, and how the control of borders and practices of punishment overlap.

I’m completing a research project examining immigration detention and deportation in the United Kingdom (UK) that is based on ethnographic research at four immigration removal centres in the UK along with follow-up research with detained individuals who were released and/or deported. I am writing up this research as a book, tentatively titled Migration Penality: Detention and Deportation in Postcolonial Britain (Routledge). I’m also leading a three-year SSHRC-funded study, Reforming Detention: Race, Gender, and Nation in the National Immigration Detention Framework. Using a Foucauldian genealogical approach, this project explores detention reform processes in Canada, looking critically at the National Immigration Detention Framework as a contemporary practice of (penal) reform.

An overlapping project that considers both punishment and immigration detention is the Prison Transparency Project, a collaborative study focusing on issues of carceral transparency and accountability. Initially funded through a three-year SSHRC Partnership Development Grant, we have been awarded a seven-year SSHRC Partnership Grant (directed by Prof Dawn Moore) to comparatively explore the cultures of transparency in Canada, Spain, and Argentina in relation to imprisonment and immigration detention.

I am also co-investigating (with Prof Laura Piacentini) the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic on prisons in Canada and Scotland, focusing specifically on issues of systemic inequalities. This project, COVID-19 Justice as Penal Justice: Examining the Impacts of the Pandemic on Prisons in Canada and Scotland, is funded by a Strathclyde and Waterloo Joint Transatlantic Partnership Award.

Selected Publications


  • Turnbull, S. (2016) Parole in Canada: Gender and Diversity in the Federal System. Vancouver: UBC Press.

Book Chapters

  • Turnbull, S. (2021) Racial Innocence, Liberal Reformism, and Immigration Detention: Toward a Politics of Abolition. In: K. Struthers Montford and C. Taylor (eds.) Building Abolition: Decarceration and Social Justice, 29-42. Abingdon: Routledge.
  • Turnbull, S. (2019) The Uses and Limits of Photovoice in Research on Life After Immigration Detention and Deportation. In: M. Deflem and D.M.D. Silva (eds.) Methods of Criminology and Criminal Justice Research. Sociology of Crime, Law, and Deviance, Volume 24, 151-164. Bingley: Emerald Publishing.
  • Turnbull, S. and Hasselberg, I. (2019) Foreign National Prisoners: Precarity and Deportability as Obstacles to Rehabilitation. In: P. Ugwudike, P. Raynor, F. McNeill, F. Taxman, C. Trotter, and H. Graham (eds.) The Routledge Companion to Rehabilitative Work in Criminal Justice, 800-811. Abingdon: Routledge.
  • Balfour, G., Hannah-Moffat, K., and Turnbull, S. (2018) Planning for Precarity? Experiencing the Carceral Continuum of Imprisonment and Reentry. In: A. Sarat (ed.) After Imprisonment. Studies in Law, Politics, and Society, Volume 77, 31-48. Bingley: Emerald Publishing.
  • Turnbull, S. (2018) Making Sense of the Shifting ‘Field’: Ethical and Practical Considerations in Researching Life After Immigration Detention. In: A. Fili, S. Jahnsen, and R. Powell (eds.) Criminal Justice Research in an Era of Mass Mobility, 130-143. Abingdon: Routledge.
  • Turnbull, S. (2018) Starting Again: Life After Deportation from the United Kingdom. In: S. Khosravi (ed.) After Deportation: Ethnographic Perspectives, 37-61. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Bosworth, M., Hasselberg, I., and Turnbull, S. (2016) Imprisonment in a Global World: Rethinking Penal Power. In: Y. Jewkes, J. Bennett, and B. Crewe (eds.) Handbook on Prisons, Second Revised Edition, 698-711. Abingdon: Routledge.
  • Bosworth, M. and Turnbull, S. (2015) Immigration Detention and the Expansion of Penal Power in the United Kingdom. In: K. Reiter and A. Koenig (eds.) Extreme Punishment: Comparative Studies in Detention, Incarceration and Solitary Confinement, 50-67. London: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Bosworth, M. and Turnbull, S. (2014) Immigration Detention, Punishment, and the Criminalization of Migration. In: S. Pickering and J. Ham (eds.) The Routledge Handbook on Crime and International Migration, 91-106. Abingdon: Routledge.

Journal Articles

  • Dobson, R. and Turnbull, S. (2022) In or Against the State? Hospitality and Hostility in Homelessness Charities and Deportation Practice. International Journal of Law in Context 18(1): 25-40.
  • Turnbull, S. (2019) Living the Spectre of Forced Return: Negotiating Deportability in British Immigration Detention. Migration Studies 7(4): 513-532. 
  • Turnbull, S. (2017) Immigration Detention and the Racialized Governance of Illegality in the United Kingdom. Social Justice 44(1): 142-164.
  • Turnbull, S. (2017) Immigration Detention and Punishment. In: H.N. Pontell (ed.) Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Criminology and Criminal Justice [online]. Oxford: Oxford University Press. DOI: 10.1093/acrefore/9780190264079.013.231.
  • Turnbull, S. and Hasselberg, I. (2017) From Prison to Detention: The Carceral Trajectories of Foreign-national Prisoners in the United Kingdom. Punishment & Society 19(2): 135-154.
  • Turnbull, S. (2016) ‘Stuck in the Middle’: Waiting and Uncertainty in Immigration Detention. Time & Society 25(1): 61-79.
  • Turnbull, S. (2014) Aboriginalising the Parole Process: ‘Culturally Appropriate’ Adaptations and the Canadian Federal Parole System. Punishment & Society 16(4): 385-405.
  • Hannah-Moffat, K., Maurutto, P., and Turnbull, S. (2009) Negotiated Risk: Actuarial Illusions and Discretion in Probation. Canadian Journal of Law and Society 24(3): 391-409.
  • Turnbull, S. and Hannah-Moffat, K. (2009) Under These Conditions: Gender, Parole and the Governance of Reintegration. British Journal of Criminology 49(4): 532-551.


Research Grants

  • 2023-2030. Co-Investigator (with D. Moore [Project Director] et al.), Prison Transparency Project, SSHRC Partnership Grant.
  • 2022-2025. Principal Investigator, Reforming Detention: Race, Gender, and Nation in the National Immigration Detention Framework, SSHRC Insight Grant [no. 435-2022-0306], CAD$85,685
  • 2022-2023. Principal Investigator (with L. Piacentini), COVID-19 Justice as Penal Justice: Examining the Impacts of the Pandemic on Prisons in Canada and Scotland, Strathclyde and Waterloo Joint Transatlantic Partnership Award, CAD$19,970 [+ £10,247]
  • 2018-2019: Principal Investigator, Visualising Immigration Detention and Deportation, Research Innovation Fund, Birkbeck College, University of London, £3,500
  • 2015-2018: Co-Investigator with D. Moore (Principal Investigator), G. Balfour, K. Hannah-Moffat, J. Martel, and D. Parkes, Prisons Transparency Project, Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Partnership Development Grant [no. 890-2014-0034], $194,635