Criminologists Travis Hirschi of the University of Arizona, Cathy Spatz Widom of John Jay College of Criminal Justice and Per-Olof Wikstrom of the University Cambridge today were named this year’s winners of the prestigious Stockholm Prize in Criminology, which has been awarded since 2006. Their research has involved issues of how parents can parents prevent their children from committing crimes. The winners were recognized for what the prize administrators called “their important joint advance in knowledge about how parents and peers shape successes, or failures, in preventing adult violence and crime.” The prize recognizes work that stretches over a half-century and three large studies “that have strongly shaped modern criminological theory.” The first study began in 1965, when Hirschi gathered data on 4,077 teenagers in Richmond Ca., testing and developing his “Social Bonding Theory” of crime. His theory did not ask why people do break the law, but why people don't break the law.
His answer was that adolescents decide not to commit crimes according to the degree of attachment to their parents, their commitment to conventional success, their involvement with conventional activities, and their beliefs in conventional moral values. While Hirschi showed what parents did right, Widom pioneered in research on what parents did wrong. In tracking 908 children in 1967-71 in a Midwestern U.S. city who, before the age of 11, had been victims of criminal abuse or neglect by responsible adults, she compared them to a matched sample of 667 control group children for whom there was no criminal record of abuse or neglect. Over the next two decades, she found that maltreatment of children increased their adult rates of crime and violence, but that most maltreated children had no criminal record as adults. Wikstrom, the first Swedish criminologist to win the prize, offers the most detailed evidence on the processes by which children negotiate their daily lives between their parents and peers. In a ten-year study of 716 families in the ethnically diverse city of Peterborough, England, he expanded on the earlier findings of his co-winners.