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Thesis defences

PhD Oral Exam - Kathleen Kennedy-Turner, Psychology

Prevention of criminal offending: Disentangling the role of education in the pathway from childhood risk factors to adult criminal charges

Date & time

Friday, September 18, 2020 (all day)


This event is free


School of Graduate Studies


Daniela Ferrer



When studying for a doctoral degree (PhD), candidates submit a thesis that provides a critical review of the current state of knowledge of the thesis subject as well as the student’s own contributions to the subject. The distinguishing criterion of doctoral graduate research is a significant and original contribution to knowledge.

Once accepted, the candidate presents the thesis orally. This oral exam is open to the public.


Education plays an important role in reducing the probability of criminal offending. Although research has shown that having more education is associated with reduced criminalization, very few studies have examined whether education plays an intervening or protective role from childhood risk factors to criminal charges in adulthood. This dissertation was designed to examine two main questions in a series of two studies: 1) Does education intervene and/or protect against childhood risk factors in the pathway to criminal offending? 2) Which of the childhood risk and protective factors contribute to the vital roles education plays in the pathway to criminalization?

In both Studies 1 and 2, childhood aggression, withdrawal, and likeability, neighborhood disadvantage, and years of education were examined as predictors of criminal charges in adulthood, within mediational models. In Study 2, academic achievement, and school absences were added as mediators. In Study 1, we found that higher childhood aggression and neighborhood disadvantage were associated with fewer years of education, which in turn was associated with an increased probability of criminal charges. Additionally, the participants at highest risk were those who had high childhood aggression and less education. There was a unique protective effect for some of the participants, such that those with high childhood aggression but more years of education had a reduced probability of criminal charges.

Study 2 investigated the effects of academic achievement and school absences on the relations between variables observed in Study 1. We observed that aggression contributed to achievement but not absences, whereas being liked by others contributed to both. Achievement and absences in turn predicted years of education which then predicted criminal charges. Achievement was moderated by gender such that males who were high achieving had reduced criminal charges. Absences were a risk factor for both males and females, but the highest risk was for males with high absences. Results from this dissertation highlight the importance of examining education in the trajectory to criminal offending. By understanding the factors that contribute to education, its protective effects can be utilized to help the most at risk children avoid a trajectory towards criminalization.

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