Volume 3 Issue 1: April 2015 - Desistance



The desistance issue

Often articles and information about desistance leave me with more questions than answers.  Like many practitioners, I am desperate to find the dummies guide ‘how to stop offenders re-offending’, however it is never likely to be that simple.

Desistance is a term widely used in the fields of criminology and criminal psychology to describe the process of an offender successfully stopping or reducing offending over a period of time. While the term is widely used in the research, it is only just beginning to emerge in our thinking in frontline practice in Aotearoa. However, those of us who work with offenders must develop systems and practices that give offenders the best chance of desisting from crime. In this issue of Practice we get the opportunity to explore the topic of desistance further and in context for New Zealand practitioners.

In this issue we have gathered a range of articles from New Zealand and the wider world that I hope will challenge practitioners to think about their practice differently. Throughout all of the articles there is a common thread that the ‘offender / client / service user’ perspective is very important to ensuring a system promotes change and a move toward desistance.  Many articles encourage a collaborative approach; this makes a lot of sense given every individual is unique and every case different, making it imperative for us to customise our practice based on the person and circumstances in front of us.

If you are new to the idea of desistance, a good place to start in this issue is the literature review by Marianne Bevan. This summarises concepts from a comprehensive range of the most prominent authors and articles on desistance.

There are two articles related to the Department’s on-going parole research project led by Devon Polascheck from Victoria University.  The article by Dickson and Polaschek examines the importance of offenders’ individual release plans. Polaschek and Yesberg then examine the relationship between an individual’s commitment to change and the likelihood of desistance from crime over a 12 month period.

A comprehensive research report by Jill Bowman into youth desistance follows the Department commissioning Dr Jarrod Gilbert to locate and interview 50 high risk young offenders who ‘desisted’ from crime. The report contains some salient information for practitioners about what works and what does not and in particular emphasises the importance of reintegrative assistance, and eliciting and enhancing pro-desistance self talk.

We are also privileged to have an international article in this issue contributed by Fergus McNeill, Stephen Farrall, Claire Lightowler and Shadd Maruna who are amongst the world’s leading researchers on the topic of desistance. The article presents ten propositions that were developed from a series of workshops throughout the UK that focused on the development of practice for desistance.  Some of these propositions challenge common current practice ideals and encourage us to think differently about how our systems operate.

One of the book reviews in this issue looks at The Resilience Factor which is considered a bit of a bible for anyone who wants to develop their knowledge of resilience to work with offenders or build personal resilience.

So, I hope this issue of Practice will leave you with a lot of questions about your practice, as it’s only by questioning what we do that we improve. There probably is no simple ‘answer’ to how to stop re-offending, but this issue of Practice will give you a lot of clues and guidance to hone your practice.

Darius FaganChief Probation Officer, Department of Corrections