Critical perspectives on desistance

Date01 June 2021
AuthorNicola Carr
Published date01 June 2021
Subject MatterEditorial
Critical perspectives
on desistance
Writing in the mid-2000s and following from emerging evidence from desistance
studies, McNeill (2006: 39) proposed that research on desistance offered a new
‘paradigm for offender management’. Insights from desistance research, he
argued, not only provided emergent evidence about the ways in which people
cease offending and how they might be supported to do so, but also a solid nor-
mative basis for probation practice. For many research on desistance, and its
translation into practice offered an antidote to the overarching emphasis on ‘What
Works’, public protection, and risk that permeated probation practice, particularly
in England and Wales, at the time. This was a period that had seen the reformu-
lation of probation from an ‘alternative to custody’ to ‘punishment in the community’
and where the public were cast as the beneficiaries of probation supervision, and
the ‘offender’ the person from whom the public were to be afforded protected from
(Burke and Collett, 2015; Worrall and Hoy, 2005).
Research on desistance therefore moved the dial somewhat towards a focus on
processes of change, where motivation for change comes from, and in what con-
texts it occurs. This shift in locus, towards recognizing that ‘desistance belongs to the
desister’, i.e. it does not reside with the expert practitioner, had parallels with earlier
attempts to recognize and foreground the agency of people subject to probation
supervision (e.g., Bottoms and McWilliams, 1979). Insights from research on
desistance – which encompasses a wide range of scholarship, including life-course
studies, explorations of the psychological dynamics of change and identity, the
salience of social bonds and the wider structural and cultural contexts which support
or inhibit desistance (Farrall and Calverley, 2006) – have since informed guidance
on how desistance can be supported in criminal justice policy and practice (McNeill
and Weaver, 2010).
In the intervening years this journal has published numerous articles exploring
aspects of desistance, including critical considerations of the dynamics between
desistance and public protection (Weaver, 2014); the dynamics of desistance from
sexual offending (Farmer et al., 2015) and the relevance of trauma to processes of
desistance (Anderson, 2016). And as Maruna and Mann (2019: 4) have recently
observed ‘desistance’ has become ‘a near ubiquitous buzzword’ in criminal justice
policy and practice. Organizations refer to their work as being ‘desistance-focused’
and policy documents such as the new Target Operating Model for Probation
Services in England and Wales (HMPPS, 2021) proclaim a desire to promote
Probation Journal
2021, Vol. 68(2) 141–145
ªThe Author(s) 2021
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/02645505211020980
The Journal of Community and Criminal Justice

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