Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology

, Volume 47, Issue 5, pp 765–778 | Cite as

Using Early Childhood Behavior Problems to Predict Adult Convictions

  • Francesca KassingEmail author
  • Jennifer Godwin
  • John E. Lochman
  • John D. Coie
  • Conduct Problems Prevention Research Group


The current study examined whether teacher and parent ratings of externalizing behavior during kindergarten and 1st grade accurately predicted the presence of adult convictions by age 25. Data were collected as part of the Fast Track Project. Schools were identified based on poverty and crime rates in four locations: Durham, NC, Nashville, TN, Seattle, WA, and rural, central PA. Teacher and parent screening measures of externalizing behavior were collected at the end of kindergarten and 1st grade. ROC curves were used to visually depict the tradeoff between sensitivity and specificity and best model fit was determined. Five of the six combinations of screen scores across time points and raters met both the specificity and sensitivity cutoffs for a well-performing screening tool. When data were examined within each site separately, screen scores performed better in sites with high base rates and models including single teacher screens accurately predicted convictions. Similarly, screen scores performed better and could be used more parsimoniously for males, but not females (whose base rates were lower in this sample). Overall, results indicated that early elementary screens for conduct problems perform remarkably well when predicting criminal convictions 20 years later. However, because of variations in base rates, screens operated differently by gender and location. The results indicated that for populations with high base rates, convictions can be accurately predicted with as little as one teacher screen taken during kindergarten or 1st grade, increasing the cost-effectiveness of preventative interventions.


Screening Preventative intervention Convictions Base rates 



This work was supported by National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) grants R18 MH48043, R18 MH50951, R18 MH50952, R18 MH50953, K05MH00797 and K05MH01027; Department of Education grant S184 U30002; and NIDA grants DA16903, DA017589, K05DA015226, and P30DA023026. The Center for Substance Abuse Prevention and the National Institute on Drug Abuse also provided support through a memorandum of agreement with the NIMH. Additional support for the preparation of this work was provided by a LEEF B.C. Leadership Chair award, Child & Family Research Institute Investigator Salary and Investigator Establishment Awards, and a Canada Foundation for Innovation award to Robert J. McMahon. Funders provided financial support, but responsibility for the design and conduct of the study; collection, management, analysis, and interpretation of the data; and preparation, review, and approval of the manuscript rests solely with the authors. We are grateful for the close collaboration of the Durham Public Schools, the Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools, the Bellefonte Area Schools, the Tyrone Area Schools, the Mifflin County Schools, the Highline Public Schools, and the Seattle Public Schools. We greatly appreciate the hard work and dedication of the many staff members who implemented the project, collected the evaluation data, and assisted with data management and analyses.

The Conduct Problems Prevention Research Group includes (alphabetically): Karen L. Bierman, Ph.D., Pennsylvania State University; John D. Coie, Ph.D., Duke University; Kenneth A. Dodge, Ph.D., Duke University; Mark T. Greenberg, Ph.D., Pennsylvania State University; John E. Lochman, Ph.D., University of Alabama; Robert J. McMahon, Ph.D., Simon Fraser University and B.C. Children’s Hospital; and Ellen E. Pinderhughes, Ph.D., Tufts University.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

Drs. Bierman, Coie, Dodge, Greenberg, Lochman, McMahon, and Pinderhughes are the principal investigators on the Fast Track Project and have a publishing agreement with Guilford Publications, Inc. Royalties from that agreement will be donated to a professional organization. They are also authors of the PATHS curriculum and donate all royalties from Channing-Bete, Inc. to a professional organization. Dr. Greenberg is a developer of the PATHS curriculum and has a separate royalty agreement with Channing-Bete, Inc. Bierman, Coie, Dodge, Greenberg, Lochman, and McMahon are the developers of the Fast Track curriculum and have publishing and royalty agreements with Guilford Publications, Inc. Dr. McMahon is a coauthor of Helping the Noncompliant Child and has a royalty agreement with Guilford Publications, Inc.

Ethical Approval

All procedures were approved by the Institutional Review Boards of participating universities (i.e., Duke University, University of Washington, Vanderbilt University, and Penn State University).

Informed Consent

Written informed consent from parents and oral assent from children were obtained for the collection of demographic and screening variables. Additional informed consent was not required for the collection of adult conviction data, given the public accessibility of these data.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyThe University of AlabamaTuscaloosaUSA
  2. 2.Center for Child and Family PolicyDuke UniversityDurhamUSA

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