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Understanding Desistance from Crime (From Crime and Justice: A Review of Research, Volume 28, P 1-69, 2001, Michael Tonry, ed. -- See NCJ-192542)

NCJ Number
Date Published
69 pages

This essay examined theory and both quantitative and qualitative research on desistance from crime and other problem behaviors.


In the study of desistance from crime or the termination of offending, a unifying framework can distinguish the termination of offending from the process of desistence. Termination of offending is defined as the point when criminal activity ceases and desistance is the underlying causal process. In examining theory and quantitative and qualitative research, it was evident that a number of factors are associated with desistance from crime, such as good marriages, stable work, transformation of identity, and aging. However, the evidence is neither strong nor convincing. A life-course perspective was presented on desistance based on a long-term study of crime and deviance over the life span. This would identify the key sources of change in the desistance process and begin to specify the causal mechanism involved. The essay was organized into six sections revolving around the understanding of desistance from crime and included: (1) examining the conceptual, definitional, and measurement issues relating to desistance from crime; (2) quantitative and qualitative studies of desistance, research on criminal careers, and studies of recidivism; (3) summary of research on desistance from domestic violence and other problem-related behavior; (4) organization of desistance literature into several explanatory frameworks; (5) presentation of a life course perspective on desistance from crime drawing on a long-term follow up study of juveniles; and (6) present and discuss specific ideas to guide future research and implications for crime control policies. References

Date Published: January 1, 2001