Understanding desistance: a critical review of theories of desistance

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    Informed by a comprehensive review of theories and research into desistance (Weaver, 2015), this article advances a critical and contemporary overview of the main theories of desistance, drawing on illustrative empirical research. It begins by addressing definitional issues, prior to showing how various theories of desistance differently explain the phenomena of giving up crime. The article concludes by engaging with its limitations and its relatively muted impact on policy and practice. It is argued that desistance research, and its interpretation in both policy and practice, remains very individualistic in focus, and often disconnected from specific analyses of the cultural and structural contexts in which both offending and desistance take place. In considering how this review might inform future research, the article suggests that the desistance paradigm might be enhanced by attending to contemporary critiques of its limitations. In particular, this would suggest the application of intersectional methods and analyses, analyses of divergences in desistance pathways by crime type, enhanced critical and contextualizing analyses of cultural and structural influences on desistance, and, beyond individual desistance, a focus on the challenges of social integration for people with convictions, to better inform and shape penal policy and practice.
    Original languageEnglish
    Number of pages32
    JournalPsychology Crime and Law
    Early online date7 Jan 2019
    Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 7 Jan 2019


    • desistance
    • desistance theory
    • giving up crime
    • literature review
    • understanding desistance
    • theories of desistance

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