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Desistance: It's a Process, Not an Event

NCJ Number
Date Published
April 2022

Audio and transcript are provided of an interview from the NIJ “Justice Today” series, in which two social science analysts discuss desistance from crime as a process of individuals addressing issues that contribute to engagement in criminal activity.



NIJ Journal Editor Beth Pearsall hosts a conversation on this topic with Senior Social Science analyst Marie Garcia, Senior Advisor Ben Adams, and Social Science Research Analyst Kaitlyn Sill. Initially, the interview focuses on the characteristics of desistance from criminal behavior as a process rather than a particular event or decision in time, after which all criminal behavior ceases. One of the interviewees compares the process of desistance from crime with desistance from smoking tobacco. The decision to quit may occur at a moment in time, but achieving total abstinence as a permanent behavioral change is a process in which the needs, attitudes, feelings, and behaviors underlying the harmful behavior are addressed. During this period of gradual change, harmful behaviors may recur and various needs and problems related to the adverse behaviors are addressed over time. Issues that must be addressed in behavioral change are also noted to differ from person to person. The interviewer then asks the question, “How do we actually know that desistance is happening?” This led to a recognition that this is a pressing research need that must receive priority in NIJ’s research portfolio, since the evaluation of corrections programs requires being able to determine that the measured effects of a program are related in some way to benefitting the process of desistance from crime for the persons involved in the program.  


Date Published: April 1, 2022