Peterborough Adolescent and Young Adult Development Study (PADS+)

Submitting Institution

University of Cambridge

Unit of Assessment


Summary Impact Type


Research Subject Area(s)

Studies In Human Society: Criminology
Psychology and Cognitive Sciences: Psychology

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Summary of the impact

PADS+ casts light on the causal mechanisms for crime, highlighting how the interaction between people and settings leads to acts of crime. As a result PADS+ has advanced the scientific basis on which policing and criminal justice strategy and crime prevention policies can be formulated in the UK and abroad. Three types of impact are claimed: (1) initiating a move away from a broad-brush risk factor approach to the explanation and prevention of crime towards a focus on key causal factors and mechanisms; (2) being recognized and utilized by policy makers; (3) contributing to social science education nationally and internationally.

Underpinning research

Per-Olof Wikström, a member of the University of Cambridge Institute of Criminology since 1997 and Professor of Ecological and Developmental Criminology since 2001, devised and set up PADS+ in 2002. As PI, Wikström has led the PADS+ research team, which includes current Research Associate Dr. Kyle Treiber (since 2003) and Research Manager Beth Hardie (since 2004). PADS+ is an on-going longitudinal study of over 700 young people living in Peterborough which began in 2002 when participants were 11 years old. PADS+ has gathered a wide range of data to improve our understanding of what makes people `crime prone' and settings `criminogenic', how people become exposed to different settings (selection effects), and how people and settings emerge over time (e.g., developmental and degenerative processes).

The main project outputs across the initial research phase (2002-2008) included the development of the analytical framework (Situational Action Theory — SAT; References 2, 4, 5) and its application to research across different stages of the life course. During this phase, PADS+ was a part of the SCoPiC (Social Contexts of Pathways in Crime) Network ( Strong emphasis was placed on disseminating the analytical framework and highlighting its advances upon existing criminological perspectives at key international events, including four annual SCoPiC conferences (2004-2007), the last being organized in conjunction with the Home Office.

From 2008 to the present the main PADS+ project outputs have related to the adolescent phase (ages 13-17), including publication of the book Breaking Rules (Reference 1) in 2012. Breaking Rules provides the first detailed description of the study, its research methods, and core findings. Core findings are that (i) personal morality and the ability to exercise self-control are key individual factors leading people to perceive and choose crime as an option for action, with morality playing a more fundamental role (Reference 6); (ii) the moral context (measured using both social and physical environmental data) is the key environmental factor which leads susceptible people to see and choose crime as an option; and (iii) crimes happen only when crime-prone people (those with weak morality and a poor ability to exercise self-control) are exposed to settings with a weak moral context — something that previous research has not be able to explicitly demonstrate.

Key insights from this are that crime prone people can be seen as situationally vulnerable to criminogenic contexts, but do not offend in non-criminogenic contexts, while crime averse people are situationally resistant and do not offend even in criminogenic contexts. This is critical for drawing attention to the fact that crime cannot be explained by characteristics of a person or a setting alone, but only through their interaction, and has important implications for the advancement of criminology and crime prevention policies and practice. PADS+ is the first study to present firm evidence of the person-environment interaction in crime causation (References 1, 3), as a result of its innovative methods, which are now being replicated in collaborative and independent studies around the world.

References to the research

1. WIKSTRÖM, P-O H., OBERWITTLER, D., TREIBER, K. & HARDIE, B. 2012. Breaking rules: The social and situational dynamics of young people's urban crime. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


2. WIKSTRÖM, P-O H. 2006. Individuals, settings and acts of crime: Situational mechanisms and the explanation of crime. In: WIKSTRÖM, P-O H. & SAMPSON, R. J. (eds) The explanation of crime: Context, mechanisms and development. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 61-107.


3.WIKSTRÖM, P-O H., CECCATO, V., HARDIE, B. & TREIBER, K. 2010. Activity fields and the dynamics of crime: Advancing knowledge about the role of the environment in crime causation. Journal of Quantitative Criminology, 26, 55-87.


4. WIKSTRÖM, P-O H., 2010. Explaining crime as moral actions. In: Hitlin, S. & Vaisey, S. (eds) Handbook of the sociology of morality. Springer.

5. Wikström P-O H. (2013) Why crime happens. In G. Manzo (ed) Analytical sociology: Norms, actions and networks. Wiley & Sons.

6. WIKSTRÖM, P-O H. & TREIBER, K. 2007. The role of self-control in crime causation: Beyond Gottfredson and Hirschi's General Theory of Crime. European Journal of Criminology, 4, 237-264.



PADS+ was supported by an initial grant of £2,334,815.17 from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) from 2002-2007, when it represented one of four major UK studies in the ESRC SCoPiC Network. A second award of £2,619,022.82 was granted by the ESRC from 2007-2012, which has since been extended to the end of 2013. An additional £20,000 was received from the Youth Justice Board to cover the 2005 Peterborough Community Survey. In addition, PI Wikström was awarded a grant of £49,000 from the Home Office in 2011 to write a report on the implications of the study for policy and prevention. Recently (August 2013), the research centre has been awarded an additional £1,336,214 from the ESRC for a specific study of the role of social disadvantage in crime involvement running from 2014-2016.

Evidence of quality of the research

1. End of Award Report: The evaluation report for the SCoPiC Network coordinated by PI Wikstrom and including the initial phase of PADS+ (2002-2007) states `in terms of quality, the network is unique in the scope of data collected, the methodological sophistication shown, and the consistent theoretical conception (all compared against international standards)'; `SCoPiC research was and is also breaking new ground in international standards of longitudinal research'; and `on the basis of its scientific quality, the SCoPiC network is already playing a major part in international discourse in developmental criminology' (all original emphasis). (Boers, K., Reinecke, J., Tilley, N. 2009. The ESRC Social Contexts of Pathways into Crime Network: Evaluation Report. Economic and Social Research Council.)

2. Reviews of Breaking Rules: Breaking Rules, published by Oxford University Press, received advance praise from a number of leading criminologists (published in full in Wikström et al., 2012). Professor Michael Gottfredson (President of the University of Oregon) situates it `among the most significant works in criminology in decades' and states that the study `sets the standard for sophisticated and innovative measurement, for careful and well-executed research design, and for clarity and precision of presentation...' and `provides data of unprecedented scope and quality'. Professor Robert J. Sampson (Harvard University) states that it is `a breakthrough that deserves a wide readership'. Professor Stephen Messner (University of Albany) writes that Breaking Rules `combines all the features of first-rate scholarship in social sciences', `succeeds in pushing forward the boundaries of the discipline by applying a promising criminological theory skilfully' and concludes that `the book serves as an exemplar of contemporary social science at its best.'

3. 2011 Presidential Address to the American Society of Criminology: In this high profile session, ASC President Professor Stephen Messner independently identified SAT as embodying the annual meeting's theme of `innovations and bold ventures in criminology' (Messner, S. 2012. Morality, markets, and the ASC: 2011 Presidential address to the American Society of Criminology. Criminology, 50(1), 5-25).

4. Awards: PI Wikström was elected Fellow of the British Academy in July 2011, and Fellow of the American Society of Criminology in 2010 for achieved distinction in criminology for his work on SAT and PADS+.

Details of the impact

Three types of impact are claimed: (1) initiating a move away from a broad-brush risk factor approach to the explanation and prevention of crime towards a focus on key causal factors and mechanisms; (2) being recognized and utilized by policy makers; (3) contributing to social science education nationally and internationally.

(1) PADS+'s most significant impact is on the terms of the debate in crime prevention and policing. PADS+ is advancing thinking about the development of more efficient and effective crime reduction policies by drawing attention to the value and importance of the explanation (causes and causal mechanisms) of crime, rather than the identification of factors which are merely statistical correlates (e.g., markers such as gender, race and socioeconomic status, which cannot be causes of crime).

This has been facilitated by wide dissemination. The 2007 SCoPiC Conference co-organized by PI Wikström and then Chief Scientific Advisor to the Home Office Professor Paul Wiles, and PI Wikström's 2012 Nigel Walker Lecture were attended by large numbers of senior representatives of government and criminal justice agencies (100-300). Following the publication of Breaking Rules, PADS+ was the subject of articles in four national daily newspapers (e.g., Sources 1, 2) and several publications aimed at practitioner groups (e.g., Source 3). PADS+ researchers took part in interviews for BBC radio and television e.g. BBC Radio 4, `Thinking Allowed', 15th August 2012 (source 4); BBC World Service News, 6th July 2012 (13:45); BBC Breakfast Show, 6th July 2012 (7:30). Reviews of Breaking Rules in influential practitioner-targeted journals describe it as `a crucial book for police officers leading or designing crime reduction or preventative strategies' which provides `crucial insights for policing' (Source 5), and having `implications for penal policies' (Source 6).

The change in the terms of the debate is evidenced by the number of invitations from local, regional, national and international practitioners and policy-makers' wishing to hear how the findings from PADS+ can and should change the way they work to reduce crime. PI Wikström has been invited to various meetings organized by the Home Office (attended, for example, by the Chief Scientific Advisor, Deputy Director of the Strategic Policy Team, and Chief Economist/Director of Social Science; e.g., June 2009, 2010), Members of Parliament and the Prime Minister's Strategy Unit (March 2008), the Ministry of Justice (March 2008), the Cabinet Office (September 2012), the Youth Justice Board (November 2008, April 2011), the Ministers of State for Crime Prevention (Home Office) and for Policing and Criminal Justice (Home Office and Ministry of Justice) (March 2013), various police constabularies and local government offices (e.g., March, May and October 2013), the US National Institute of Justice (April 2011), the Swedish National Police Board (August 2011), and the Danish Crime Prevention Council (April 2013). In 2011, Wikström was appointed external expert to the Home Office Crime and Policing Group.

(2) PADS+ has been utilised in the development of policy and practice in the following respects. First, practitioners and policy makers have started to integrate the implications of PADS+ into their work. For example, the Safer Peterborough Partnership writes "[we] are really keen to develop our policies... working with Professor Wikström... enabling the Partnership to develop its approach with a strong understanding and consideration of what causes crime and criminality" (source 10); and Nottinghamshire Constabulary writes "We are keen to consider how we take the findings and ensure our local policy decisions pay due attention" (source 11) and they hope to "turn the SAT theory and the research findings into local operational activity" (Source 12). Second, the Home Office (Office for Security and Counter Terrorism) commissioned a report applying SAT to radicalisation, which has been cited in the Government's Prevent Strategy for preventing violent extremism (source 8) which is part of CONTEST: The United Kingdom's Strategy for Countering Terrorism (source 7). Third, the Home Office has commissioned a report, currently in development, detailing the implications of PADS+ research for policy and practice, indicating their intention for this contribution to the knowledge base to be utilised in local and national crime prevention strategy.

(3) In addition to its impact in criminal justice and policy arenas, PADS+ has been included as a case study in the OCR Psychology A Level syllabus (Source 9), which is taught to an estimated 12,000 UK students each year, and PADS+ researchers have been invited to speak at a number of UK secondary schools. Breaking Rules (Reference 1) is already being used in University courses in the US (Temple University), Germany (Universities of Hamburg and Mannheim) and Sweden (Malmö University) and the fact that Reference 3 has been one of the most accessed articles in the Journal of Quantitative Criminology since its publication suggests it is also being used extensively in university courses.

Sources to corroborate the impact

  1. The Independent. June 24th, 2012. `The 16-year-olds who have committed 86 crimes each':
  2. The Telegraph. May 19th 2012. `Crime: The antidote is morality':
  3. Education Journal. 29th June 2012. `Morality is key in young people's resistance to crime involvement'.
  4. BBC Radio 4, `Thinking Allowed'. 15th August 2012:
  5. Neyroud, P. (2012). Wikstrom, P-O H, Oberwittler, D., Treiber, K. and Hardie, B. (2012). Breaking Rules: The Social and Situational Dynamics of Young People's Urban Crime. Policing, 6(4), 330-331.
  6. Padfield, N. (2013). Book review. Breaking Rules: the Social and situational dynamics of young people's urban crime by Per-Olof Wikström, Dietrich Oberwittler, Kyle Treiber and Beth Hardie. Criminal Law Review 4, 361-365.
  7. HM Government. (2011a). CONTEST: The United Kingdom's strategy for countering terrorism London: The Stationary Office Limited. (pg. 65)
  8. HM Government. (2011b). Prevent Strategy. London: The Stationary Office Limited.
  9. Bainbridge, A., Collier, W., Latham, S., Middleton, S., & Saunders, B. (2008). OCR A2 Psychology: OCR/ Heineman.
  10. Email from person 1 (Anti Social Behaviour Co-ordinator, Safer Peterborough Partnership) (1 October 2012)
  11. Email from person 2 (Senior Officer, Nottinghamshire Constabulary) (20 Sep 2012)
  12. Email from person 2 (10 Nov 2012)