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University of Cambridge
Peterborough Adolescent and Young Adult Development Study

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PADS researchers have begun their analyses by investigating participants’ criminal career patterns, including characteristics of their offending such as onset, persistence, severity, versatility, escalation and desistance. They have then considered these patterns in lieu of participants’ individual characteristics and the characteristics of the environments in which they spend their time and, specifically, in which they offend.

  • Individual variables: Morality and self-control

PADS researchers found that weak morality and low self-control both predicted participants’ offending. They also observed an interaction between morality and self-control, such that low self-control was only related to offending for participants who also had weak morality. This is an important finding as self-control is a key factor in many prominent theories of offending, and in many intervention programmes. PADS findings suggest that morality warrants at least as much criminological attention, as it plays a more fundamental role in offending, which has implications for policy and practice

.Crime Frequency x Propensity

PADS researchers found that participants’ exposure to criminogenic environments (e.g., those with weak social cohesion and poor informal social control) was also related to their offending. Neighbourhood disadvantage is linked to the presence of criminogenic environments, however, PADS research found that it is not the fact that one lives in a disadvantaged area which leads to offending, but rather that one is exposed to criminogenic environments (within in and outside of one’s neighbourhood). Thus it is the time one spends in disadvantaged environments which is important to one’s offending, and not necessarily the fact that one’s area of residence is disadvantaged. This has important implications for how criminologists study the role of neighbourhoods and other environments on offending. To date, many studies use participants’ neighbourhoods as a measure of their social environments; PADS findings suggest this may not be sufficient and argues that PADS methodology is more effective in capturing the effect of the social environment on young people’s offending.

Crime Frequency x Exposure

  • Developmental effects

Having identified the morality and self-control as key individual factors in offending, PADS researchers delved in differential developmental influences to try to understand why some participants developed weak morality and low self-control, which leads to offending. They found that family variables (e.g., family structure, family climate and family social position) and school variables (e.g., school bonds) were significantly related to levels of morality and self-control; participants who experienced greater parental care/nurturing, regardless of family structure or social position, and stronger school bonds exhibited greater levels of morality and self-control. In fact, morality and self-control mediated the relationship between family and school variables and offending, suggesting that family and school variables influence offending only through their role in determining young people’s levels of morality and self-control.

  • Individual x environment interactions

PADS main analytical aim has been to study interaction effects between individual and environmental factors which lead to offending. Preliminary analyses show that these effects can reveal important dynamics about crime causation which may lead to a better understanding of how to predict offending and target interventions more effectively. For example, PADS data suggests that exposure to criminogenic contexts (environmental factors) leads to offending specifically for participants with weaker morality and lower self-control (i.e., greater individual propensity). This suggests that participants’ with greater individual propensity may be more susceptible to environmental inducements to offend. This has implications for intervention practices.

Crime Frequency x Exposure x Propensity

Interestingly, PADS researchers have also found that deterrence is only effective for participants who consider committing an offence. Fear of the consequences of offending was only important in explaining the offending (or non-offending) of participants who reported being regularly tempted to offend.

As PADS analyses delve deeper into these interactions, they may help to clarify many existing questions and controversies concerning the role of various individual and environmental factors in young people’s offending. This has the potential to better inform policy and practice, leading to more effective crime prevention.

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