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Imagination of Desistance: A Juxtaposition of the Construction of Incarceration as a Turning Point and the Reality of Recidivism

NCJ Number
British Journal of Criminology Volume: 54 Issue: 1 Dated: January 2014 Pages: 91-108
Michaela Soyer
Date Published
January 2014
18 pages
This study identifies and analyzes the discrepancy between the negative impact incarceration had on life outcomes of 23 juvenile offenders in Boston and Chicago and their subjective perceptions of incarceration as a positive turning point that stimulated their commitment to live a responsible, law-abiding life.
The study found that the young men's belief in the deterrent effect of their incarceration experience contrasted significantly with their patterns of recidivism and personal failure in the community after their release. Eleven out of 15 juveniles in Chicago returned to prison or jail at least once over the course of the observation period. In Boston, two of the juveniles spent most of the observational period in a juvenile prison. One of them reoffended less than a month after coming home. Out of the other six youth, five reoffended at least once. They either had to return to the juvenile detention center in Dorchester or were sent back to a long-term treatment facility. As of June 2013, one youth in Boston and two in Chicago had successfully completed their juvenile probation. The other respondents remained on adult or juvenile probation and/or parole. The author believes this study demonstrates that being held in a juvenile facility is connected to a wide range of negative emotions, such as humiliation, powerlessness, and feeling they have been treated unfairly. Rather than developing new skills useful for building and sustaining a non-deviant lifestyle, the youth learned how to distance themselves from what they perceived as irrelevant therapeutic interventions. Apparently, although incarceration led to a commitment to change their behaviors and build a responsible life of achievement, they did not have the cognitive resources, social skills, vocational skills, self-management abilities, and supportive guidance needed to follow through on their resolve. 1 table and 42 references