Prolific/persistent offenders and desistance

Authored by: Stephen Farrall , Rob C. Mawby , Anne Worrall

Handbook of Probation

Print publication date:  May  2007
Online publication date:  May  2013

Print ISBN: 9781843921905
eBook ISBN: 9781843926184
Adobe ISBN: 9781134014910


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Our approach to this chapter will be one that sets projects for prolific or persistent adult offenders within the theoretical framework of recent literature on desistance. Our overarching argument will be that such projects, which combine intensive supervision with intensive surveillance, have so far focused solely on achieving ‘crime reduction’ through either rehabilitation or incapacitation/deterrence. Because of constraints of time and political pressure, existing evaluations have tended to reduce the complexities of the process whereby offenders stop committing crimes to simplistic measures of recidivism rates and the division of programme participants into ‘successes’ and ‘failures’. (It will be noted that imprisoning a participant is not necessarily seen as a ‘failure’ for these projects, though it presumably has to be seen as a ‘failure’ for the participants.) In this chapter, we plan to explore the impact of such projects on participants using previously unpublished interview material and to set those experiences within a theoretical context. In particular, we want to explore the distinction between ‘primary desistance’ and ‘secondary desistance’ as discussed by Maruna and Farrall (2004). This distinction defines ‘primary’ desistance as ‘any lull or crime-free gap’, whereas ‘secondary’ desistance involves ‘the assumption of a role or identity of a non-offender’ — becoming a ‘changed person’. Our tentative hypothesis is that prolific/persistent projects at their best buttress ‘primary’ desistance and prepare an offender for ‘secondary’ desistance, but that the latter will only occur when other personal, social and economic factors are favourable (see also Farrall 2002).

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