Exploring the Process and Maintenance of Desistance from Offending

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The purpose of the present study was to examine factors connected to periods of unsuccessful, successful, and maintained desistance. To facilitate this goal, the study was structured around a dynamic conceptualization of desistance and examined the subjective perceptions of 20 self-reported official and behavioural desisters (median and mode age of 30 years) who participated in semi-structured interviews based on a life history narrative approach. Interviews lasted an average of 72 minutes and produced a total of 469 single spaced pages of verified transcripts. Themes were generated through a five stage interpretative phenomenological analysis coding procedure, related to the five stages of the offending and desistance cycle. Overall, participants attributed offending to external factors within their environment, but incorporated the ramifications of their offending into their identities. Participants linked unsuccessful desistance periods to external factors such as experiencing external controls (e.g. physical ailments) or having others attempt to force behavioural change. Resurgence in criminal behaviour following unsuccessful desistance periods was often linked to a cascading breakdown of desistance factors after participants experienced an offending trigger, such as losing employment or relapsing into substance use. In contrast, participants linked successful desistance periods to their identity, and experiencing a desire to change that helped motivate them to attain a positive possible future and to positively overcome threats to their desistance. In addition to identity change, maintenance of desistance was attributed to a change in environment, gaining social capital, and a desire to maintain progress in a positive life direction. Notably, participants tended to report first experiencing identity changes, which led to cognitive transformations and the accumulation of social capital, which ultimately supported sustained desistance. However, there is likely no golden rule that can be applied to all offenders to help them desist. Rather it is important to understand and respect the multifaceted, dynamic, complex, and individual nature of desistance from offending.

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This thesis may be printed or downloaded for non-commercial research and scholarly purposes. Copyright remains with the author.
Senior supervisor: 
Kathleen Slaney
Arts & Social Sciences: Department of Psychology
Thesis type: 
(Dissertation) Ph.D.