Crime and Desistance: Probing How Probationers’ Thoughts on Crime May Inform Their Conduct

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National Institute of Justice on 7/2/2021

The ways that people on probation tend to think about crime can offer important clues about whether they will resume or reject a criminal life. A number of past studies have examined how probationers’ cognitions relate to recidivism, that is, a return to criminal activity. Less of the research has looked at links between cognition and desistance, that is, refraining from crime going forward. [1]

No consensus definition of “desistance” exists in the literature. Among other widely recognized meanings, desistance has been defined to be long-term abstinence from crime [2] or the gradual slowing down of offending.[3] It can refer to the act of refraining from crime or the process of becoming, or remaining, crime-free.

A recent study supported by the National Institute of Justice has generated novel findings on probationers’ cognitions informing desistance, including insight into:

Probationers’ beliefs motivating a desire to desist from crime.
The tendency of probationers’ thoughts on desistance to evolve over time — or remain static.
Differences between probationers’ own thinking regarding desistance and their community supervision officers’ perceptions regarding those probationer cognitions.