College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences

Youth crime study honoured in impact awards

Researchers who collected evidence that led to a change in the age of criminal responsibility in Scotland have been recognised by a prestigious award.

Edinburgh Law School Professors Susan McVie and Lesley McAra received the prize for Outstanding Public Policy Impact at the ESRC's Celebrating Impact award ceremony at the Royal Society, London.

Contributing evidence

The award recognises their work in contributing evidence that led to raising the age of criminal responsibility in Scotland and influencing actions to keep young offenders out of the youth justice system.

The Edinburgh Study of Youth Transitions and Crime has shown the juvenile justice system’s negative impact on young people and their futures.

The Edinburgh Study has been tracking the lives of 4,300 12-year-olds who started secondary education in the city in 1998.

Initially, funded for four years by the ESRC, it has also been supported by the Scottish Executive and has long-term funding from the Nuffield Foundation.

Examining policy

The study was used to inform the decision to legislate a rise in the age of criminal responsibility from eight years of age to 12 in Scotland from May 2019.

The two-decade long study has also impacted a wide range of policies and practice, resulting in reductions in the numbers of children and young people being excluded from school and referred to the juvenile justice system.

There have also be reductions in the number of children convicted in the courts and imprisoned.

At the ceremony, a prize of £10,000 was awarded to Professors McVie and McAra. It will be used by the researchers to inform policymakers and politicians elsewhere in the UK and more widely abroad about the findings of the Edinburgh Study.

They will also be highlighting the positive impact on crime and community safety of moving from a punitive approach to one based on addressing the welfare and social needs of the most vulnerable and victimised young people in society.

Lesley and I are very proud to have won this award. The Edinburgh Study has impacted on a wide range of justice policies and practice over many years both in Scotland and internationally. The prize is a reflection of the value of longitudinal research and the part it can play in driving progressive policy.

Professor Susan McVieEdinburgh Law School 

The impact of the study would not have been possible without the contribution of our cohort. In generously sharing their own stories, they have helped build the evidence base to drive more effective policy. This has benefitted many thousands of children and made Scotland a safer place.

Professor Lesley McAraEdinburgh Law School 

Researchers have looked at the development of young men and women over the course of their lives, including their involvement (or not) with the police and juvenile justice system, and the type of neighbourhood in which they live and the impact it has on them.

Rather than reducing crime, the Edinburgh Study has shown that taking a hard line on young offenders contributes to repeat offending, ongoing involvement with the youth justice system and, eventually, a transition into adult criminality.

The quality of data gathered from years of rigorous observations has helped bring about change - based on evidence from people’s life experiences as they move into adulthood. 

Winners of the ESRC Celebrating Impact Prizes