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Caitlin Cavanagh - Michigan State University. East Lansing, MI, US

Caitlin Cavanagh Caitlin Cavanagh

Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice | Michigan State University


Expert in adolescent development in the juvenile justice system.


Caitlin Cavanagh's research focuses on the law, and how social contexts shape adolescent behavior. A developmental psychologist by training, she is particularly interested in the dynamic parent-child relationship. Her program of research seeks to produce developmentally sound research that can improve how the juvenile justice system interfaces with youth and their families.

Industry Expertise (4)


Mental Health Care



Areas of Expertise (4)

Parent-Child Relationships

Juvenile Delinquency and Crime

Criminal Justice

Adolescent Development

Accomplishments (1)

American Psychology-Law Society Dissertation Award

2017 2nd Place

Education (2)

University of California: Ph.D, Developmental Psychology 2016

University of California: MFA, Psychology and Social Behavior 2013

Affiliations (1)

  • SRA Executive Council Emerging Scholar Representative

News (3)

Most Moms of Juvenile Offenders Don’t Lose Hope for Son’s Future

Psych Central  


“Mothers who were a part of this study had uniformly high aspirations for their sons — as in, what they hope and dream that their sons will achieve,” said Dr. Caitlin Cavanagh, assistant professor of criminal justice at Michigan State University (MSU). “What changed, however, were their expectations of the feasibility of those achievements.”...

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Can Parents of Juvenile Offenders Still Dream?

MSU Today  


“Mothers who were a part of this study had uniformly high aspirations for their sons – as in, what they hope and dream that their sons will achieve,” said Caitlin Cavanagh, assistant professor of criminal justice at MSU. “What changed, however, were their expectations of the feasibility of those achievements.”...

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Mothers’ Lack of Legal Knowledge Linked to Juvenile Re-offending

MSU Today  


Those are the findings of a first-of-its-kind study led by a Michigan State University criminologist that suggests a dire need for more legal education for parents of juvenile offenders. Caitlin Cavanagh likens it to parents supporting their children in school – that’s only really possible if they know what their kids are studying, their homework and exam schedules, and so on. “Just as there are ways for parents to help in academic contexts, there are ways for parents to help in the legal contexts, insomuch that they know what to do,” said Cavanagh, assistant professor in MSU’s School of Criminal Justice. “Our results point to some pretty clear implications, which is that we need to educate parents about the juvenile justice system – about their rights, roles and responsibilities.”...

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Journal Articles (3)

Comparing the stability of psychopathy scores in adolescents versus adults: How often is “fledgling psychopathy” misdiagnosed?

Psychology, Public Policy, and Law

Cauffman, Elizabeth, Skeem, Jennifer, Dmitrieva, Julia, Cavanagh, Caitlin

2016 Can psychopathy be identified as accurately during adolescence as adulthood? To address this developmental question, this study compared the stability of scores on the leading measure of psychopathy, the Psychopathy Checklist (PCL), among 202 adolescent (M = 15.8 years, SD = 0.89) and 134 adult (M = 27.5, SD = 1.08) offenders. Over a 2-year period, adolescents’ total scores on the PCL (r = .33) were less stable than those of adults (r = .71). Adolescents’ baseline PCL scores also weakly predicted psychopathy classifications 2 years later (AUC = .62), particularly compared with those of adults (AUC = .85). Finally, increases in psychosocial maturity over time predicted decreases in PCL scores for adolescents, but not adults. These results raise questions about reliance upon psychopathy measures to inform decisions about youthful offenders that will have long-term consequences.

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Viewing law and order: Mothers’ and sons’ justice system legitimacy attitudes and juvenile recidivism

Psychology, Public Policy, and Law

Cavanagh, C., & Cauffman, E.

2015 Negative attitudes toward the justice system are associated with higher rates of reoffending, but there is little information about how these negative attitudes are formed among youth. Despite the well-documented link between parents’ and children’s attitudes in other domains, no research has explored how parents’ attitudes toward the justice system may be associated with youth attitudes. The relation between youth and mother justice system legitimacy attitudes, and the effect these attitudes have on juvenile offenders’ reoffending behavior, was examined using structural equation modeling. Mothers and their sons (N = 315 pairs, 630 total) were interviewed after the son’s first arrest and again 12 months later. Results indicate that sons’ attitudes (directly) and mothers’ attitudes (indirectly) predicted increased youth self-reported reoffending 12 months after the first offense. Furthermore, mothers’ attitudes indirectly predicted youth official rearrests 12 months after the first offense. No racial differences were found. These findings provide evidence that mothers socialize youth attitudes toward the justice system, and suggest that family context may influence youth probationary success. When designing both legislation and interventions, practitioners and policymakers must keep in mind the broader family context in which youth offenders are embedded.

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Does Mother Know Best? Adolescent and Mother Reports of Impulsivity and Subsequent Delinquency

Journal of Youth and Adolescence

Jordan Bechtold, Caitlin Cavanagh, Elizabeth P. Shulman, Elizabeth Cauffman

2013 Although impulsivity is one of the strongest psychological predictors of crime, it is unclear how well impulsivity, measured at a specific moment in adolescence, predicts criminal behavior months or years into the future. The present study investigated how far into the future self-reports and parents’ reports of a youth’s impulsivity predicted whether he engaged in illegal behavior, whether one reporter’s assessment was more predictive than the other’s, and whether there is value in obtaining multiple reports. Data were obtained from a 6-year longitudinal study of adjudicated juvenile offenders (n = 701 mother-son dyads). Youth (m = 15.93 years old; sd = 1.14) and their mothers independently reported on adolescents’ impulsivity at the initial assessment. We examined the prospective correlation of these measures with illegal behavior, assessed by official records of arrests and youths’ self-reports of offending across the 72-month study period. Youths’ and mothers’ reports of the adolescents’ impulsivity were weakly, but significantly, correlated with one another. Furthermore, mothers’ ratings of their sons’ impulsivity predicted arrest up to 6 years into the future, whereas youths’ reports did not significantly predict arrest beyond 30 months. With respect to youths’ self-reports of offending, mothers’ ratings of impulsivity again predicted farther into the future (as late as 6 years later) than did youths’ self-reports of impulsivity, which were not predictive beyond 4 years. However, across the first 4 years, youths’ self-reports of impulsivity explained more variance in self-reported offending than did mothers’ ratings. The results underscore the endurance of the predictive utility of an assessment of impulsivity and the importance (and accuracy) of parents’ reports of developmental constructs, even when their children are adolescents.

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