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Term of the Month

Defining Criminal Justice Research

Welcome to NIJ’s Term of the Month. Each month we are featuring a term from our scientific research portfolios informing significant American justice system issues and solutions. 

November 2021 — Desistance

Desistance is generally understood to mean the reduction in criminal behavior over time. It is the process of individuals ceasing engagement in criminal activities. Varying definitions and measurement strategies have evolved over the years. Early scholarship tended to view desistance as a discrete event — that is, the termination of offending or end of a criminal career. More recent definitions, however, suggest that desistance is instead a developmental process by which criminality declines over time.

In NIJ’s new publication Desistance From Crime: Implications for Research, Policy, and Practice, Dr. Michael Rocque offers an updated, theoretically grounded definition as a foundation for future work: Desistance is “the process by which criminality, or the individual risk for antisocial conduct, declines over the life-course, generally after adolescence.”

Related NIJ resources:  

Links to each chapter in Desistance From Crime: Implications for Research, Policy, and Practice

NIJ hosted a webinar during which the authors presented and discussed key themes from each of their chapters. A recording of the webinar and transcript of the webinar will be posted and linked here when ready.


Date Created: January 28, 2021