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Professors McAra and McVie shortlisted for ESRC Celebrating Impact Prize

Wed 1 May 2019

Professors Lesley McAra and Susan McVie

The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) has announced the finalists for the Celebrating Impact Prize 2019, including Edinburgh Law School Professors Lesley McAra and Susan McVie. 

The ESRC Celebrating Impact Prize, which is in its seventh year, recognises “the success of ESRC-funded researchers in achieving and enabling outstanding economic or social impact from excellent social science research”. 

Profs McAra and McVie were shortlisted for the prize for the Edinburgh Study of Youth Transitions and Crime, which looked at youth offending and the impact of interventions. The study was instrumental in a recent decision by the Scottish Government to raise the age of criminal responsibility.

All legal systems set a minimum age at which a young person can be held fully responsible for committing a crime. This is known as the age of criminal responsibility. In Scotland this has been set at age 8 since 1932.  It is one of the lowest ages of criminal responsibility in the world and it contravenes international human rights standards. The Scottish government has now decided to raise the age of criminal responsibility to a minimum of 12. In making this decision the Scottish Government has drawn on robust evidence from the Edinburgh Study of Youth Transitions and Crime about the negative effects of criminalisation on young people.

The change to the minimum age of criminal responsibility is the culmination of a series of transformations in youth justice policy in Scotland all influenced by Edinburgh Study findings including: transforming the Scottish youth justice policy framework from a target-driven culture predicated on harsh and punitive approaches to a welfare-based and holistic paradigm which emphasised ‘getting it right for every child’ and ‘early and effective intervention’ (from 2006). The national roll-out of a new Whole Systems Approach to dealing with young people in trouble across all 32 Local Authorities (from 2011) resulting in dramatic reductions in youth offending and major reductions (for the first time since records began) in the number of young people held in custody. It also formed the sole basis for major amendments to the Children’s Hearings (Scotland) Act 2011 (Part 8, section 188), restricting the disclosure status of offences committed in childhood, and enhancing employability amongst young adults.

As a result of all of these changes compared to 2006/07 there are now14,000 fewer children referred annually to the children’s hearings system, 23,000 fewer under 21s being convicted in Scottish courts annually, and 3,000 fewer under 21s being sent to prison annually. By keeping these young people out of the criminal justice system this has had a substantial beneficial effect on reducing the number of adults in the system in later years.

Winners of the ESRC Celebrating Impact Prize will be announced at an awards ceremony at the Royal Society in London on 9th July 2019.