Why do the young turn to crime? Early findings turn some theories on their heads

December 19, 2005

How and why do young people become criminals? Why do they become criminals? What can we do to change their lives? These are the vital, socially relevant questions that two major research programmes funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) aim to address. Through supporting such work, the ESRC underlines its commitment to social science and to informing policy frameworks.

Pathways into and out of Crime: Risk, Resilience and Diversity, is a network of six universities exploring aspects of young people's lives linked to crime and anti-social behaviour. Led by Jean Hine of DeMontfort University, Leicester, and due to conclude in April, 2006, it has already involved two years of intense work, exploring issues primarily from the point of view of young people themselves.

A separate programme, approaching the subject from a different perspective, is the SCoPiC Network (Social Contexts of Pathways into Crime) - a major five-year investigation led by Professor Per-Olof Wikström of the University of Cambridge, into what kind of people in which sort of circumstances turn to crime. This is due to conclude in 2007.

Jean Hine's Risk Resilience and Diversity Network, with total ESRC funding of £1.4 million, involved more than 1,000 10-18-year-olds in projects using a variety of approaches, from questionnaires to creating videos about their life in high crime neighbourhoods.

The findings call into question some commonly held views about why young people become involved in crime and show that situations often thought of as leading to problem behaviour can actually be the opposite. For instance, a parent being in prison may provide a respite from what may have been a chaotic home life. They question also the inevitability of the link between drug use and crime, showing the complexity of this relationship and how offending can stop even though some kinds of drug use may continue.

And when it comes to interventions, Jean Hine said: "Young people's comments suggest that, for them, people are more important than programmes. They value workers who listen and treat them fairly."

Her report will show that young people often experience crime as victims and witnesses as well as offenders.

Where young people live is a key factor, and they know this. They understand the reputation of their neighbourhoods and its problems, and show considerable skill in managing their lives around them.

Work on the other major programme, the Cambridge-based SCoPiC Network, with total funding of £2.3 million, includes a five-year long investigation - the Peterborough Adolescent Development Study (PADS) - led by Professor Wikström.

Researchers are following a sample of 707 boys and girls who were 12 years old in March, 2003, right through until they reach the peak age for criminal activity, 14-15, in 2007. The aim is to examine how far crime can be explained, on the one hand by adolescents' morality and ability to exercise self-control, and on the other by the social and moral environments in which they develop and operate.

Other SCoPiC research, the Sheffield Pathways Out of Crime Study (SPOOCS), at the University of Sheffield, is examining processes that influence whether or not young, adult, active offenders desist from crime. Along with innovative studies, ESRC funding enables a range of activities, including international conferences and workshops which bring together experts from around the world to address this important topic.

Professor Wikström said: "National and local crime prevention policies are too often based on insufficient knowledge of the social and developmental processes that cause adolescents to get involved in crime and disorder.

"It is crucial that we do better research into this area. If not, our efforts to minimise adolescent crime and antisocial behaviour will continue to result mostly in failure."
For further information, contact:
Jean Hine on 0116 257 7764; e-mail: jhine@dmu.ac.uk
Professor Per-Olof Wikström on 01223 335378; e-mail: pow20@cam.ac.uk

Or Alexandra Saxon, Annika Howard or William Godwin at ESRC, on 01793 413032/413119/413122

1. The Pathways into and Out of Crime: Risk, Resilience and Diversity programme began in January, 2004 and runs until April 30, 2006. The five projects are: Risk and resilience in children who are offending, excluded from school, or who have behaviour problems: University of Sheffield (Dr Alan France) and De Montfort University (Jean Hine); Risk, Protection and Resilience in Urban Black and Asian Culture: University of Nottingham (Dr Kaye Haw); Risk, Protection and Resilience in the Family Life of Children and Young People with a Parent in Prison: University of Newcastle (Professor Janet Walker); Social capital and its impact on risk, protection and resilience in young people: De Montfort University (Professor Hazel Kemshall); Young offenders and substance use: risk and protection: Glasgow Caledonian University (Professor Richard Hammersley) and University of Essex (Dr Louise Marsland). The programme also has international collaborations with Penn State University, USA, and with Griffith University, Brisbane, Australia. Website: http://www.sheffield.ac.uk/pathways-into-and-out-of-crime/

2. The SCoPiC Network (Social Contexts of Pathways into Crime) programme runs from October, 2002, until September 30, 2007. The Network's major empirical activity is three co-ordinated projects in different universities, targeting the role of social contexts in different developmental phases (childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood): Peterborough Adolescent Development Study (PADS): Professor Per-Olof Wikström, University of Cambridge; The Childhood Study; Professor Terrie Moffitt, King's College, London; Sheffield Pathways out of Crime Study (SPOOCS), Professor Anthony Bottoms, University of Sheffield. Other UK SCoPiC projects are: Policy and Prevention Analysis: Professor Alex Hirschfield, University of Huddersfield; and The Cambridge Study in Delinquent Development: Professor David Farrington, University of Cambridge. SCoPiC has international collaborations with the Universities of Harvard, Pittsburgh and Montreal, and on the Zurich Project on Social Development of Children, headed by Dr. Manuel Eisner, of the University of Cambridge. Website: is http://www.scopic.ac.uk/studies.htm

3. The ESRC is the UK's largest funding agency for research and postgraduate training relating to social and economic issues. It provides independent, high quality, relevant research to business, the public sector and Government. The ESRC will invest more than £123million this year in social science and at any time is supporting some 2,000 researchers in academic institutions and research policy institutes. It also funds postgraduate training within the social sciences to nurture the researchers of tomorrow. More at http://www.esrcsocietytoday.ac.uk

4. ESRC Society Today offers free access to a broad range of social science research and presents it in a way that makes it easy to navigate and saves users valuable time. As well as bringing together all ESRC-funded research (formerly accessible via the Regard website) and key online resources such as the Social Science Information Gateway and the UK Data Archive, non-ESRC resources are included, for example the Office for National Statistics. The portal provides access to early findings and research summaries, as well as full texts and original datasets through integrated search facilities. More at http://www.esrcsocietytoday.ac.uk

5. The ESRC confirms the quality of its funded research by evaluating research projects through a process of peer review. Sometimes the ESRC publishes research before this process is finished so that new findings can immediately inform business, Government, media and other organisations. Research quoted in this release is yet to have final comments from academic peers.

Economic & Social Research Council
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