Students discussing research

The Cambridge-Somerville Youth Study (CSYS) is a delinquency prevention experiment embedded in a prospective longitudinal survey of the development of offending.

The study was developed and directed by Richard Clarke Cabot (1868-1939), a professor of clinical medicine and social ethics at Harvard University. Planning began in 1935 and the delinquency prevention program officially started in June 1939. The CSYS is recognized as the first randomized controlled experiment in criminology, one of the earliest randomized experiments of a social program, and the earliest example of a longitudinal-experimental study with criminological outcomes.

The CSYS has been the subject of three major follow-ups: in 1948, by Edwin Powers and Helen Witmer; in 1956, by Joan and William McCord; and in 1975-79, by Joan McCord. A fourth follow-up is underway, tracing participants into old age (mid-80s to early 90s).

We wish to extend our deep appreciation to the family of Joan McCord, with special recognition for Geoffrey Sayre-McCord, who is the Morehead-Cain Alumni Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It was Geoff’s commitment to science, long-term vision, and graciousness that allowed us to continue research on the Cambridge-Somerville Youth Study and build on Joan McCord’s life-work. Special thanks are owed to the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, beginning with Dean Chet Britt and continuing with Director Anthony Braga, and the College of Social Sciences and Humanities, namely Associate Dean Jack McDevitt, for continued support and some timely funding. We also wish to thank the Netherlands Institute for the Study of Crime and Law Enforcement (NSCR) for some funding.

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