“Probation and You!” Senior Juvenile Care Worker (ZH) – Mr. Keivois Lake ‘Desistance: How Do We Reduce Offending’

By anguillian April 24, 2017 11:42



From the street it looks like a typical house. The green fencing is high and topped with rolls of razor wire. Inside the Juvenile Residential Centre- Zenaida Haven – dubbed “the boys home” by members of society, is certainly a family setting with structure and guidelines. Zenaida Haven provides housing which can hold up to ten (10) young men ages eleven (11) to eighteen (18) for crimes ranging from theft to possession of cannabis to assault. Apart from the plastic cutlery and the boys’ impassive demeanour, the setting is quite ordinary. But some of their stories are mind blowing.

Whether you come from a legal, social or correctional background, we can all agree that desistance is an important topic in relation to not only offenders but non-offenders as well. This is because crime affects everyone, as we are only ‘one door step away from being a victim’.

Desistance itself is a tricky topic because the two widely used definitions are conflicting. Firstly, Blumstein et al. (1986) proposed instantaneous desistance in which an offender chooses to end a criminal career instantaneously moving to a zero rate of offending. Secondly, Laub and Sampson (2001) viewed desistance as a process by which the offending rate declines steadily over time to zero or a point close to zero. Both definitions have theoretical and practical implications. For example, the first definition focuses on mainly a choice perspective, whilst the second focuses on a more nature perspective. The question now becomes what factors really influence desistance (e.g. age, marriage, military service etc.), and is it really an instantaneous or gradual process?

Factors which Influence Desistance

The Theory of Age-Graded Informal Social Control: (Sampson and Laub 2001) states that desistance is the result of strengthened bonds between the individual and social institutions. An example of this would be relationships with romantic partners or places of employment which increase the incentive to avoid criminal behavior. Reason being, spouses and employers monitor former offenders’ routine activities and regulate behavior. Further, a good marriage encompasses social cohesiveness, mutual investment, and close emotional ties. Former gang members often cite children, girlfriends, and jobs as their motivation for leaving the gang (Decker & Lauritsen, 2002).

Age: Developmental theories attribute age as a critical factor for desistance. They emphasize cognitive and identity changes linked to new social roles as an individual matures. The transition out of crime during adolescence involves increased maturity in several psycho-social characteristics affecting judgement. As adolescents mature, they are better able to control aggressive impulses, to consider others, to foresee consequences of actions, and to resist peer influence.

Environment: The environment also plays a significant role in whether an individual desists or revert. According to Laub and Sampson’s (2003) Social Change Theory, offenders desist from crime in response to structurally induced turning points such as work, marriage, and military service. Such turning points serve as catalysts for a sustained behavioral change by providing an opportunity for individuals to knife off from their past – to separate from the former contexts, situations, and criminal associates that facilitated their criminal behaviour. This is done by new opportunities (e.g. restructured family ties), restructured routine activities (such as employment), identity transformation. One such example includes a study done by Kirk (2012) in which he studied offenders who had to move after hurricane Katrina. Results showed those who moved to another location desisted as compared to offenders who stayed in the same environment.

Rehabilitation: In 1974, Martinson produced a meta-analyst citing ‘Nothing Works’, meaning rehabilitation is/was a waste of time and little could be done to prevent recidivism. As a result of Martinson’s findings, this sparked a wealth of research on the impact of rehabilitation, with the majority of findings largely supporting rehabilitation as an effective means of reducing offending so long as it is responsive to the client’s needs, and tailored to his/her level of risk. Martinson’s research not only proved to be a reductionist of the literature but also outdated and far-fetched.

Labelling: It is important on what type of labels society places on offenders. Labelling has the power to induce a self-fulfilling prophecy. For example, labelling someone as a thief or criminal, may actually drive that person to be a thief or revert back to a life of crime. In a study of 95,919 men and women who were either adjudicated or had adjudication withheld, Chiricos and colleagues (2007) found that those who were formally labelled were significantly more likely to recidivate within two years than those who were not. Interestingly, Bernburg and colleagues (2006) found that the process worked in much the same way as theorized by

Braithwaite: intervention by the juvenile justice system predicted involvement with deviant gangs, which then led to increased offending. LeBel and colleagues (2008) also found that individual perceptions of being stigmatized are an important mediating mechanism in the return to criminality. People start to believe that they can successfully change their lives when those around them start to believe they can. In other words, rehabilitation (or recovery) is a construct that is negotiated through interaction between an individual and significant others (Shover 1996: 144). Not only must a person accept conventional society in order to go straight, but conventional society must accept that this person has changed as well.

Hope: This refers to an individual’s overall perception that personal goals can be achieved. Previous studies have shown that an individual has fairly accurate ability to control his/her own future behaviour in regard to crime. Hope is therefore a significant predictor of whether people desist or revert back to crime. However, it must be noted that as a person’s problems increase, the impact of hope decreases.

To conclude, there are a number of factors that influence whether an offender desists or recidivates. The Department of Probation continues to work along with offenders to ensure that the above factors are met and, where applicable, reduced. However, it should also be noted that desistance largely depends on society. Society has the power to aid in an offender’s choice to “go clean’ or to revert to a life of crime. As the popular proverb states, ‘it takes a village to raise a child’, therefore we should all ensure we do our part i.e. make sure we give offenders their fair chance of rehabilitation in order for them to desist from crime.

By anguillian April 24, 2017 11:42


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