The first delinquency prevention experiment: a socio-historical review of the origins of the Cambridge-Somerville Youth Study’s research design

  • Brandon C. WelshEmail author
  • Nicole E. Dill
  • Steven N. Zane



Begun in 1939, the Cambridge-Somerville Youth Study (CSYS) is recognized as the first delinquency prevention experiment and the earliest example of a longitudinal–experimental study with criminological outcomes. This paper aims to develop a historical understanding of the origins of the study’s research design.


The present study is guided by the socio-historical approach and informed by past historical research in criminology. It draws upon a wide array of archival records and published works from the late nineteenth century to the present day.


Richard Clarke Cabot designed and directed the CSYS. Major influences on the study’s research design can be traced to Cabot’s medical practice and research, his advocacy for social work practice and research, and his professional relationship with the Gluecks. The beginnings of experimentation in the social sciences during the early twentieth century may have also played a role. Joan McCord’s early involvement in the study proved instrumental to its longitudinal component.


The rigorous and innovative research design of the CSYS marks an important chapter in the history of experimental criminology, and its influence continues to this day. New experimental studies on the prevention of crime and delinquency must continue to strive to advance scientific knowledge and improve public policy.


Randomized controlled experiment Longitudinal-experimental design Delinquency prevention History of criminology Cambridge-Somerville Youth Study 



We wish to thank the editor and the anonymous reviewers, as well as the reference staff at the Harvard University Archives.


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Criminology and Criminal JusticeNortheastern UniversityBostonUSA
  2. 2.Netherlands Institute for the Study of Crime and Law EnforcementAmsterdamThe Netherlands

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