Mothers' Lack of Legal Knowledge Linked to Juvenile Re-Offending

January 2017

Elizabeth Cauffman, Professor of Psychology and Social Behavior, is featured on Fox 47 News and for
her research with her colleague Caitlin Cavanagh. Their research on mothers' legal knowledge and youth
re-offending indicates that when mothers were less knowledgeable about the legal system, their children were
more likely to commit another crime if their mothers did not participate in legal proceedings.
From Fox 47 News and
The study, published online in the journal Psychology, Public Policy and Law, is titled “What they don’t know can
hurt them: Mothers’ legal knowledge and youth re-offending.”
Cavanagh and Elizabeth Cauffman from the University of California, Irvine, studied the cases of 324 boys aged 13 to 17 who were charged for the
first time with low to moderately serious offenses such as vandalism, theft and assault. The study followed up with the youth a year later to see if they
had re-offended.
Mothers of the youthful offenders completed questionnaires about their knowledge of and participation in the juvenile justice system. The researchers
elected to sample only female guardians because mothers of juvenile offenders are more likely than fathers to be present in their children’s lives;
indeed, nearly 85 percent of youth in the study listed a female as their primary guardian.
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