ESC European Criminology Award recipient

Uberto Gatti

Uberto Gatti

University of Genoa


ESC European Criminology Award recipient

Sir Leon Radzinowicz, the founding Director of the Cambridge Institute of Criminology, wrote a hefty scientific autobiography at the age of 92 (1). I am 10 years younger and yet, owing to the emotion of the event, I am worried and uncertain as I write these few pages of thanks. Please be indulgent!

I am greatly honoured and delighted to receive an award from the European Society of Criminology (ESC) which I have considered my home since its foundation, and to which I am particularly attached.

From a general perspective, I believe that the construction of a European Union must not only be political and economic; it must also be based on bonds and relationships that involve universities, scientific institutions and the world of culture. In this sense, the ESC has represented a formidable tool for integration, for building relationships and for sharing knowledge that is extremely useful not only for the advancement of science but also for the construction of true European unity.

I thank the jury for awarding me this prize and, in particular, for having come up with a wonderful and generous motivation which describes me in such a way that, if I were wiser, would induce me to remain silent: by speaking I can only tarnish my image!

I am grateful to you all for granting me the opportunity, in this prestigious venue, to remember and to thank those people who have played a fundamental role in my career and my scientific pathway.

The first of these is Giacomo Canepa, Director of the Institute of Criminology of Genoa University who appointed me as a collaborator in 1967. Canepa was particularly interested in international relations: he was President of the International Society of Criminology and founded the International Center for Comparative Clinical Criminology, in collaboration with the School of Criminology of Montreal University which was, back then, directed by Denis Szabo. Thanks to this collaboration, I obtained a research grant, from the Ford Foundation, at the University of Montreal. This brought me into contact, in 1968-69, with my Canadian colleagues, with whom I still collaborate after more than 50 years. In those years, people of great interest to a criminologist were working in Montreal.

In addition to Szabo, a pioneer of criminology in Quebec and a tireless weaver of international collaborations, I want to mention Bruno Cormier, an intellectual and a psychiatrist who was closely involved in innovative penitentiary treatment programs; Henri Ellenberger, an eminent scholar and psychiatric historian; Ezzat Fattah, one of the founders of victimology; and finally Noel Mailloux, a Dominican friar and psychoanalyst, founder of the Faculty of Psychology of Montreal, who allowed me to attend, for a year, his weekly group of psychotherapy sessions with the young inmates of Boscoville, a rehabilitation institute which was, in those days, revolutionary.

At the end of my fellowship, I went with Henrik Tham, a former President of the ESC and a fellow Ford Scholar, on a month-long Greyhound trip from Montreal to San Francisco and back via Chicago, Las Vegas, San Diego, New Orleans, the Grand Canyon and Washington. We slept on the bus at night and explored the various cities during the day: very tiring but a wonderful experience!

If I have dwelt so long on that year spent in Montreal, it is because it was certainly the most important period in my training as a criminologist. It brought me into contact with ideas and research that were far from the dominant paradigm in Italian criminology of the time, which were mainly centered around the Faculty of Medicine and still influenced by an entrenched post-Lombrosian positivism. Indeed, only some years later did an important school of critical criminology develop with a sociological orientation, introducing a new vision of crime and social control in Italy.

It should also be remembered that those were the years of youth protest. Back in 1967, we medical students had occupied the Faculty hoping to trigger long-overdue reforms. When I returned to Italy in 1969, after my Canadian experience, I found myself immersed in this wave of protest, which, in my field, swamped psychiatric hospitals, rehabilitation facilities, and prisons. Summarising as much as possible, I could say that I spent about 10 years destroying and the following 10 years rebuilding.

My main field of intervention was that of juvenile justice. With my colleague and friend Tullio Bandini, and many others, I engaged in a harsh critique of the particularly obsolete and repressive structures that dealt with deviant minors. The theoretical tools and research inspired by labeling theory provided us with useful means of demonstrating the deleterious effects of institutions dealing with young deviants in Italy, as did the influential anti-psychiatry movement founded by Franco Basaglia. Then, a major change occurred in 1977: a law transferred many tasks concerning social welfare interventions from the state to the municipalities. Consequently, the Municipality of Genoa implemented a policy of closing down the so-called total institutions and of reorganising the system of assistance for minors in difficulty. The Municipality invited me to be a consultant to support this change. We initiated a program that involved the progressive closure of rehabilitation centers and the development of a non-sectoral welfare system that would be as decentralised as possible and open to the community. Not everything went as expected, but significant progress was nevertheless made. In working out our ideas regarding juvenile justice, a particularly precious relationship was that with Lode Walgrave (2), who had set up and coordinated an international group of experts in that field.

From a scientific point of view, my participation in the activities of the Criminological Scientific Council of the Council of Europe (3) was extremely valuable to me. There, I worked with such extraordinary people as Louk Hulsman, Donald West, Roger Hood, Friedrich Lösel, Aglaïa Tsitsoura and Christian Debuyst, whose ideas and research influenced and inspired me. In particular, Martin Killias (4) favored my inclusion in international research projects and invited me to replace him for a semester as a lecturer at the University of Lausanne. I am particularly attached to this University, not least because of my subsequent collaboration with Marcelo Aebi – for five years, he asked me to teach about the history of criminology, piqued my interest in a field of study that I still maintain to this day. Killias also had the merit of putting me in contact with an extraordinary researcher, Josine Junger-Tas (5), the inspirer and coordinator of the important research project International Self-Report Delinquency Study (ISRD). Now in its fourth edition, the project is currently coordinated with equal commitment and availability by Ineke Marshall. Also in this area, and thanks to the initiative of Majone Steketee (6), I had the opportunity to participate in an important European research project on the relationship between alcohol and juvenile delinquency.

At the first meetings to coordinate the ISRD, I met Malcolm Klein, another extraordinary scholar with great skills in weaving international relationships. One of the leading scholars about youth gangs in the USA, Klein (7) made a study trip to Europe and became convinced of the need to study gangs in our continent too. For this purpose, he founded the Eurogang Network (bringing together researchers from Europe and North America), and invited me to join. I developed new research interests thanks to this participation. I conducted ethnographic research interviewing gang members in my city (8), and later suggested introducing questions concerning gangs into the ISRD questionnaire. This enabled me, with the collaboration of Sandrine Haymoz, a brilliant student of Killias, to carry out several analyses about the presence of gangs in 30 European and non-European countries (9).

This brings us to 1998, when my scientific pathway reached a turning point thanks to my collaboration with Richard Tremblay, a celebrated researcher whom I had met in 1968 at the Boscoville Center in Montreal. Inspired by the work of Robert Putnam, Tremblay asked me to conduct a study on the relationship between civicness and juvenile delinquency in the various Italian regions (10). This first investigation, which, to my surprise, was published in the British Journal of Criminology (my first publication in such a prestigious international journal), was followed by many others: on homicide, suicide, drug addiction, and so on. Tremblay generously granted me access to the databases of his longitudinal research which had been ongoing for decades. This enabled me to empirically verify theories on the iatrogenic effects of juvenile justice (11) and to test the selection, facilitation, and enhancement hypotheses to explain the association between gang membership and delinquency (12). This research was followed by further studies and a systematic collaboration that continues today.

In those years, fundamental support came from an extraordinary Dutch scholar: Hans Schadee, Professor of Statistics at the University of Milan-Bicocca. His role in analysing and interpreting the data I was collecting was essential.

So far, I have mostly mentioned foreign colleagues but there are, of course, very many Italian colleagues who have collaborated with me and to whom I owe a lot. I cannot list them all here, so I will limit myself to mentioning those from the Genoese school: Tullio Bandini, with whom I shared an extraordinary story of collaboration and friendship, Adolfo Francia, Giovanni Battista Traverso, Gianni Fossa, Gabriele Rocca, and my current successor Alfredo Verde who has brilliantly continued the tradition of involvement in international research, contributing to the development of the ESC Working Group on Narrative Criminology.

Last but not least: it is my great pleasure to thank my dear student Barbara Gualco and to congratulate her for having held high the flag of Italian criminology by organising this marvelous congress.


(1) Radzinowicz S.L. (1999) Adventures in Criminology. London: Routledge.

(2) Walgrave L. (1998) Restorative Justice for Juveniles: Potentialities, Risks and Problems for Research. Leuven: Leuven University Press.

(3) Gatti U. (1995) “Psychosocial interventions in the criminal justice system. Opening address. Proceedings of the 20th Criminological Research Conference (1993). European Committee on Crime Problems”. Criminological research, Vol.  XXXI. Strasbourg: Council of Europe Press.

(4) Killias, M. (1995) The European sourcebook of crime and criminal justice statistics. Eur J Crim Policy Res, 3, pp. 108–117

(5) Junger-Tas, J., I. Haen Marshall & D. Ribeaud, with the collaboration of M. Killias, G.J. Terlouw, N. Bruining, M. Born, Ni He, C. Marshall & U. Gatti (2003). Delinquency in an International Perspective. The International Self-Reported Delinquency Study (ISRD). Amsterdam: Kugler.

(6) Gatti U., Rocca G., Soellner R., Astrid-Britta Bräker A.-B., Verde A. (2013) Delinquency and alcohol use. In:  M. Stekete, H. Jonkman,  H. Berten & N. Vettenburg (Eds.), Alcohol-use Among Adolescents in Europe. Environmental Research and Preventive Actions. Utrecht:  Verwey-Jonker Instituut, pp. 237-246.

(7) Klein M.W., Kerner H.J., Maxson C.L. & Weitek, E.G.M. (Eds.) (2001) The Eurogang paradox: street gangs and youth groups in the U.S. and Europe. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic.

(8) Gatti U., Angelini F., Marengo G., Melchiorre N. & Sasso M. (2005). An Old-Fashioned Youth Gang in Genoa. In D. Scott & F. Weerman (Eds.),  European Street Gangs and Troublesome Youth Groups. New York: Alta Mira Press, pp. 51-80.

(9) Gatti U., Haymoz S. & Schadee H.M.A. (2011) Deviant youth groups in 30 countries: results from the Second International Self-Report Delinquency Study. International Criminal. Justice Review, 21(3), pp. 208-224.

(10) Gatti U., Tremblay R.E. & Larocque D. (2003) Civic Community and Juvenile Delinquency: A Study of the Regions of Italy. The British Journal of Criminology, 43(1), pp. 22-40.

(11) Gatti, U., Tremblay, R. E., & Vitaro, F. (2009). Iatrogenic effect of juvenile justice. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 50(8), pp. 991–998.

(12) Gatti, U., Tremblay, R. E., Vitaro, F., & McDuff, P. (2005) Youth gangs, delinquency and drug use: A test of the selection, facilitation, and enhancement hypotheses. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 46(11), pp. 1178-1190.