A Decade of Desistance: An Exploratory Study in Desistance Theory

Brendan Marsh, Dublin Institute of Technology

Successfully submitted for the award of Masters in Criminology to Dublin Institute of Technology, September 2009


This research paper is a biographical study of the lived experience of five men who have sustained desistance from crime for over a decade. The aim of the research is to identify the causal process that allows for desistance from crime for such a significant period. Qualitative research methods were employed in this endeavour, with each participant interviewed using a semi-structured format. Furthermore the researchers’ status as an ‘insider’ provided an added dimension to this process. Results confirmed the findings of existing desistance theory research as carried out by prominent criminologists, that is desisting ex-offenders need to find a way to give back to society, or the next generation, to sustain desistance. Accompanying this generative work is a change in the very identity of the desister that makes criminal activity unlikely. Moreover informal social controls enabled structured routine activities, accountability and indirect supervision to impact on these individuals development. The paper concludes by discussing the finding that these men are engaged in the dual process of desistance from crime and recovery from addiction, and the causal process that sustains desistance also sustains recovery from addiction.