Library Dissertation Showcase

A study establishing to what extent the current criminal justice system is a barrier for desistance theory to work effectively – as seen through the eyes of the offender

  • Year of Publication:
  • 2019

In the United Kingdom there are a number of key societal issues with respect to the reoffending cycle of career criminals, and it is one that appears to be showing no signs of abating. These issues include individuals committing further crimes within a year of being released from prison and this being especially true for offenders who have served shortterm prison sentences of less than a year. The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) (2019) recorded that approximately 30,000 of all adult offenders had committed a further crime within one year which provides a reoffending rate of 29.2%. Individuals who had served custodial sentences of less than 12 months had a reoffending rate of 64.4%. In addition to this, the MoJ (2019) reported that the reoffending rates for adults ranged between 7% for individuals with no previous offences and 50.1% for individuals with 11 or more previous offences. Desistance theory is a criminological principle that considers factors which are pertinent to an offender ceasing their criminal careers. These factors include aging, social foundations such as relationships, employment, education and housing, narrative script and self-identity. Desistance theory works to address recidivism by helping the criminal justice system to implement community-based sentences which reduces the number of people serving shortterm prison sentences, and subsequently increased criminality and further offending upon release (Harper, 2013). This piece of research identifies whether desistance theory is used in practice by considering the opinions and experiences of eight prolific offenders from a city in the East Midlands. The aim of this research is to seek to understand the reasons why offenders are not being rehabilitated effectively and whether aspects of desistance theory would help to improve recidivism rates. There are two significant factors which must be acknowledged: firstly, elements of the desistance theory are not being used in practice – practitioners are aware of the merits of desistance theory, but the system and operational practice makes it difficult for desistance theory to be applied. Secondly, desistance theory and societal views rely on the offender needing to change to be rehabilitated as opposed to there being changes to the way in which the criminal justice system supports an offender to desist from crime. There is a social perception that prison should be utilised as a punitive means with a primary focus of punishment; this belief, which subsequently influences practice, needs breaking down so that adaptations can be made. There appears to be a lack of consideration around the need for the criminal justice system and organisations that work within it to adapt their responses to offenders and the support that they offer to encourage rehabilitation so that the rates of recidivism can be effectively reduced. It is difficult to expect an individual to make changes if the agencies that support them to do so, do not also consider making policy and procedure alterations to their organisation or the service that they offer. This research was undertaken by conducting eight interviews with prolific male offenders in a city in East Midlands. Subsequently, analysis of the conversations and data was used to establish common themes or occurrences that could help to develop a better desistance theory and change the system so that desistance theory can be more effective. The results identified that desistance theory, as defined by leading academics, is too broad and generic. Additionally, desistance cannot be classified as a theory, rather a set of practices that collaborate together to support the offender being rehabilitated and desisting from crime. Through this research and previous research; Burrows (2018), it has been possible to collate some recommendations that would support and enable a more realistic desistance theory – primarily through shifting the focus onto the criminal justice system, instead of treating the individuals in isolation. In brief, these recommendations involve utilising community-based sentences, individuals being provided with one support worker who acts as their representative, inmates being encouraged to complete qualifications whilst serving a prison sentence so they can find employment on their release, and, finally, being helped to find suitable accommodation following release from either prison or a half-way house.

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