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Becoming a Desister: Exploring the Role of Agency, Coping and Imagination in the Construction of a New Self

NCJ Number
British Journal of Criminology Volume: 54 Issue: 5 Dated: September 2014 Pages: 873-891
Deirdre Healy
Date Published
September 2014
19 pages
Psychosocial factors involved in desistance from crime were identified for 14 adult males who were first interviewed while they were on probation in Dublin, Ireland, between September 2003 and August 2004; the focus of this study was on the qualitative findings of re-interviews with these 14 men between December 2009 and May 2010.
The study found that these men, all of whom were in the process of desisting from crime, were infused with a sense of direction and purpose as well as a rejection of criminality. They were committed to using effective coping styles when faced with challenges. This provides empirical support for desistance theories that emphasize the importance of imagining a new self, with attention to the identification and implementation of cognitive and behavioral strategies for achieving and maintaining features of the new self. The findings also increase understanding of the early stages of change. The core ingredient that begins the change is the high value placed on the envisioned new identity and the belief that one is capable of becoming that person. Otherwise, there is no incentive to exert and sustain the mental and behavioral effort required to forge the envisioned identity. In addition, results show that the re-imagining of the self may be triggered by a range of factors, including internal psychological shifts, exposure to external desistance opportunities, or some combination of both that may be unique to the individual. The importance of external support and opportunities to express features of the new self were also found to be important in sustaining the energy and commitment needed to keep the focus on the building, maintenance, and expression of the new self. 49 references