Desistance From Crime – Implications for Research, Policy, and Practice

A key step in advancing our knowledge in these areas is to examine how we think about and measure the process of individuals ceasing engagement in criminal activities, referred to as “desistance.” How we conceptualize this process can afect how we evaluate the efectiveness of laws and policies intended to provide or increase public safety. How practitioners view this process — and their role in supporting it — can infuence how they engage with clients across all stages of system involvement. Furthermore, programs and initiatives are ofen judged on their ability to reduce reofending and improve other outcomes. Having a clear understanding of what we consider desistance to be, incorporating policies and interventions that support desistance, and identifying best practices to evaluate these eforts is important work.

Recidivism — often defned as criminal acts or interactions with law enforcement that result in re-arrest, reconviction, or return to prison — has been the primary outcome for criminal justice research for decades, and it continues to be. The recidivism data available from federal, state, and local systems over time provide valuable information. For example, the data can help us gauge the performance of correctional programs and whether policies are successfully providing public safety to their communities. Practitioners can also use recidivism data to assess the risk of reofending for the populations they serve. Despite the value of this information, we must expand beyond recidivism in how we understand and examine individual behavior.

This volume takes important steps in describing how a desistance framework can move the feld forward across key decision points in the criminal justice system (e.g., at time of arrest, charging, pretrial release, case processing, disposition and sentencing, and reentry). Although research has focused on desistance for some time, the term and its accompanying knowledge base are far less known than recidivism. Recidivism is a discrete measure — that is, yes or no — and has a limit to the amount of information it can provide. Capturing where an individual is in the desistance process provides more nuanced information, better supports assessment of individual progress toward less criminal behavior, and facilitates a strengths-based perspective focused on building on individual assets to promote positive change. Incorporating desistance principles into the criminal justice feld has great potential to improve outcomes, elevate practices, better support those with system involvement, and more effectively use resources to provide safety to the community.

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