U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

Roads Diverge: Long-Term Patterns of Relapse, Recidivism, and Desistance for a Cohort of Drug Involved Offenders

NCJ Number
Date Published
June 2013
180 pages
Using a mixed-methods research design, this study followed former drug-involved offenders for just over 20 years after their release from prison in order to examine the mechanisms and processes of their desistance from crime and drug use.

Interviews with the participants (n=304) found that the vast majority of offenders who had successfully desisted from both crime and drug use first transformed their self-consciousness from an "offender identity" into a "non-offender working identity." This was the case for both racial and gender groups interviewed. This cognitive change was typically motivated by respondents' realization that if they did not change their criminal and drug-using behaviors, they would likely have an early death from drug effects or their criminal lifestyle. In order to reinforce their new "non-offender" identity, study participants used various tools, including increased interaction with law-abiding friends and staying away from locations that triggered their drug use or criminal behavior. Although treatment usually did not result in immediate desistance from drug use and criminal behavior for most involved in this study, the majority who desisted from drug use and crime relied on behavioral tools learned in treatment in order to sustain desistance from drug use and crime. Many cited religion as an important resource for maintaining their desistance from drug use and crime. Contrary to life-course theory, romantic partnerships and parenthood were not prominent factors in desistance from drug use and crime; however, rekindling relationships with adult children or grandchildren was an important factor for many respondents. Although being employed was not a primary factor in desistence from crime and drug use, the maintenance of a "non-offender" identity was more difficult when meaningful employment was not a central feature of a "non-offender" identity.

Date Published: June 1, 2013