Causes and Impact of Offending and Criminal Justice Pathways: Follow-up of the Edinburgh Study Cohort at Age 35

Research output: Book/ReportOther report


The Edinburgh Study of Youth Transitions and Crime is a longitudinal programme of research on pathways into and out of offending for a cohort of around 4,300 young people who started secondary school in Edinburgh in 1998. This report provides a summary of findings from the most recent phase of the Study (phase eight) which followed-up cohort members at age 35.

Funded by the Nuffield Foundation, this phase aimed to explore the causes and consequences of offending and justice pathways from childhood to early middle age. Fieldwork included: attempting to re-contact all cohort members; collection of criminal convictions data for all cohort members; an online-survey of contacted cohort members; and interviews with a sub-sample of
cohort members.

The research was designed to address the following three research questions and consider what the implications of the findings were for people, policy and practice.
1. How do people’s patterns of criminal conviction vary over time?
2. Does contact with criminal justice help people stop offending over the longer term?
3. What impact does offending and justice system contact have on education, employability, health and inter-personal relationships over the life course into early middle age?

Key messages from the report are:
• Most people who offend during adolescence stop by early adulthood; however, desistance (stopping) is a complex process influenced by multiple factors that are not the same for everyone and do not necessarily remain
constant over time.
• Key factors that inhibit desistance from offending in adolescence and early adulthood include: an impulsive personality, engaging in drug use, and experiencing frequent crime victimisation.
• Individuals who continue to offend beyond the age of 25 are significantly more vulnerable than those who stop by age 18, with a history of both adverse experiences and serious offending behaviour in childhood.
• Early involvement in serious offending has a significant impact on the likelihood, longevity and severity of youth and adult criminal justice contact; however, many of those who engage in serious offending have no contact with justice organisations.
• Pathways of criminal conviction from childhood to early adulthood vary considerably depending on people’s early life circumstances, and are associated with a wide range of behavioural, familial, contextual and experiential factors. However, those who come persistently into contact with the justice system over time tend to be amongst the poorest and most vulnerable people in our cohort.
Early and intensive formal system contact (especially care experience) is strongly associated with later justice system contact and a range of other negative outcomes.
• People who have contact with the criminal justice system are not necessarily more likely to desist from offending and, indeed, for some people it may act as a catalyst for continued offending into adulthood.
• Formal system contact is typically experienced by individuals as a set of barriers and hazards to be negotiated, but positive change relies on key individuals (such as youth workers or foster carers) who provide
strong and consistent support.
• Successful outcomes typically involve achieving modest social norms (such as family, home and employment); however, change is often precarious, especially amongst those who have a poor start in life.
• Holistic approaches, which work across policy portfolios (education, economy, housing, and justice), and which target risk factors across communities rather than risky individuals in childhood and adolescence, are likely to be successful in driving down offending and conviction across the life course.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationEdinburgh
PublisherUniversity of Edinburgh
Number of pages45
ISBN (Electronic)9781912669233
Publication statusPublished - 9 Mar 2022


  • life-course transitions
  • offending behaviour
  • criminal conviction
  • desistance
  • persistence
  • causes of crime


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