Australian Institute of Criminology

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Criminal Mothers Strongly Influence Crime in Children

Media Release

09 May 2011

A study released today by the Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) highlights the increased likelihood of the transfer of criminal tendencies of parents engaged in crime to their children.

The study, by the Tasmanian Institute of Law Enforcement Studies and the AIC, examined the generational transfer of criminal tendencies through six Tasmanian families over several generations, with particular focus on the influence of mothers on their children.

"The influence of criminal fathers on their sons has been proved in the past through criminological studies but until now, a criminal mother's impact on sons and daughters risk of offending has been less clear," Dr Vanessa Goodwin1 said.

Conviction records were sourced for 714 people known to criminal justice professionals over a number of generations.

All offences including traffic offences were included, though the focus was on serious offences such as: assault, car theft, some drug offences, offences against police, destruction of property and unlawful possession.

Of the data set, 159 individuals had records for serious offences. These were modelled (as probabilities) against familial relationships.

A son with no criminal parents had an 18% likelihood of committing a serious offence. With a criminal father the probability jumped to 48.5% and with a law-abiding father but a criminal mother, there was a 33% likelihood that the son would commit an offence.

If both parents were criminals, the probability of the son having a criminal record was 67%, pointing to a multiplier effect between parents.

For daughters of parents who weren't criminals, the probability of having a serious criminal record was 8%. With a criminal father, it rose to 26%. With a criminal mother, it rose to 17% and if both parents were criminals, the probability rose to 43% (still substantially lower than the 67% for sons).

AIC media contact: Colin Campbell 02 6260 9244 / 0418 159 525

1 At the time the study was conducted Dr Vanessa Goodwin was a Project Manager with the Tasmanian Department of Police and Emergency Management and postdoctoral fellow with the Tasmanian Institute of Law Enforcement Studies at the University of Tasmania. She is currently the State Shadow Attorney‐General.