08 August 2022
The Edinburgh Study is a longitudinal programme of research on pathways into and out of crime for around 4,300 people who started secondary school in Edinburgh in 1998. The most recent research phase follows-up with participants at age 35 to examine the causes and impacts of criminal justice pathways on longer-term life chances. The findings were published in this report in March.
The link between difficulties with education and prison experience
Susan highlighted some shared characteristics of people in the study who had been to prison. They were significantly more likely to have grown up in a low income household and to have reported problematic substance use.
PLA members were particularly interested in the findings about education:
Those with prison experience by age 35 were significantly more likely to have special educational needs, identified personal difficulties and half had changed schools at least once during secondary education.
By age 15 (approaching legal school leaving age), prison experienced individuals were significantly less engaged with school (as were their parents) and were far more likely to be behaving badly and receiving school punishments.
Half of those with prison experience by age 35 were excluded from school by age 12, and the vast majority of them had left school at the earliest opportunity.
Pathways to desistance
Lesley explained that the study found persistent offending from age 18 was linked to early serious offending, drug use, and adverse childhood experiences. However, other problems in adulthood such as impulsivity, clinical depression, clinical anxiety, and experiencing victimisation were also strongly associated with persistent offending.
Their interview data showed that contact with agencies such as care, education and criminal justice can at best slow down pathways out of offending and at worst, increase the likelihood of reoffending.
Many of our most serious persistent offenders, particularly those that carried on into adulthood, had quite a tenuous relationship with school. They often skipped, skived or truanted from school, and often were excluded from school. Some of this was to do with bullying; being a victim of bullying or being a bully themselves. There were also very strong findings about undiagnosed learning needs at school.
The study finds that, when it comes to stopping reoffending, it is people, rather than systems, institutions, or programmes that matter.
It’s the people that young people encounter that matter. Really positive relationships can make a difference.
Loving relationships, employment and responsibilities are key, yet fragile aspects of desistance. These are things that the criminal justice system can’t create but do sometimes undermine.
Policy implications of The Edinburgh Study
The study has many important findings and crucial messages for policy makers. Susan and Lesley laid out the following implications of this research:
The elephant in the room is poverty. Poverty absolutely matters in all of this; it flows through everything. It puts you under the gaze of the criminal justice system and yet that gaze of the criminal justice system means it’s very difficult to then escape poverty. We need to put poverty at the centre of our thinking about youth and adult crime.
We are very grateful to our fantastic speakers and to the participants in the discussion.
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