Gates scholar lead author on crime article

  • March 29, 2011
Gates scholar lead author on crime article

Sytske Besemer's research on the impact of parental offending on children is published.

English boys whose parents were imprisoned have significantly more adult criminal convictions than those whose parents were just convicted but not imprisoned, according to a study by a Gates scholar.

The study is published in the British Journal of Criminology and compares the conviction rates of children of convicted and imprisoned parents in England and the Netherlands.

The lead author of the study, The relationship between parental imprisonment and offspring offending in England and the Netherlands, is Sytske Besemer [2008] who is completing her PhD at the Institute of Criminology.

Using two longitudinal datasets covering the period from 1946 to 1981, the Cambridge Study in Delinquent Development and the NSCR Transfive Study in the Netherlands, Besemer and colleagues looked at whether prisoners’ children have more adult convictions than children whose parents were convicted but not imprisoned.

In the Netherlands, Besemer found no significant relationship between parental imprisonment and offspring offending. In England, a relationship was found only for sons whose parents were imprisoned after their seventh birthday, particularly for those whose parents were imprisoned on several occasions.

Besemer says: “I think it is interesting that we found a difference between England and the Netherlands, because these countries differed in their social and prison policies when we studied parental imprisonment. The Netherlands used to be much more liberal and had a humane and social policy, where prisoners had many opportunities for contact with their families and resocialisation was the goal.

“England was much more punitive with a more repressive penal system with much higher imprisonment rates and longer sentences. Furthermore, stigma might have been stronger for prisoners’ children in England. The results are not easily generalisable to today’s society, but with today’s more punitive landscape and the reliance on prison as a form of punishment, this topic is actually even more relevant today because more and more children are experiencing parental imprisonment.” 

Her PhD looks at the intergenerational transmission of criminal and aggressive behaviour. She hopes her work will contribute to building a greater understanding of the development of criminal and aggressive behaviour and more effective ways of controlling and preventing it.

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