Exploring crime as children transition to adulthood

Date: 7th April 2022

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Using interviews, an online survey and conviction data, this new research explores differing pathways to being convicted from childhood to early adulthood. Looking at 4,300 people’s criminal and anti-social behaviour from ages 12 to 35, the findings uncover that people’s pathways vary considerably depending on their early life circumstances and fulfilment of rights.

Some of the main findings from the study include:

  • A quarter of the participants had at least one criminal conviction by the age of 35. These ranged from minor offences such as theft and speeding through to serious offences such as serious assaults.
  • Most of those who offend in adolescence do not go on to offend in adulthood, and many of those engaged in serious offending are not known to justice organisations in childhood or adulthood
  • Desistance from offending is a complex process influenced by multiple factors that are not the same for everyone and do not necessarily remain constant over time. However, factors that could facilitate desistance would include prevention in relation to poverty, drug use and crime victimisation.
  • 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.
  • People who have contact with the criminal justice system are not necessarily more likely to desist from offending and, in some cases 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.

Read the research in full here.