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Research on Offender Decision-Making and Desistance From Crime: A Multi-Theory Assessment of Offender Cognition Change

NCJ Number
Caleb D. Lloyd
Date Published
October 2019
38 pages

This the Final Summary Report of a study that examined cognitive decision-making by community-supervised offenders that facilitated their desistance from crime.


Participants were recruited from two community corrections probation agencies, a Texas probation agency in a county with a Hispanic majority and a federal probation agency in a state next to Texas. Phase 1 of the study conducted one focus group at each site that involved nine probationers with the state agency and seven probationers with the federal agency. In the focus groups, probationers expressed their personal motivations for desisting from crime. In order to qualify for the focus groups, probationers must have remained incident-free on probation for at least 9 months and were maintaining a positive relationship with the supervising officer. The second phase of the study involved individual voluntary sessions in which probationers interacted with researchers in completing a questionnaire that solicited each probationer’s thoughts about himself and crime. An effort was made to recruit probationers shortly after beginning their supervision orders to maximize retention in the longitudinal design. Overall, the study conducted 655 data-collection sessions with 355 individuals. A total of 651 sessions were held for 354 probationers. Four general findings emerged from data analyses. First, probationers differed from each other in average questionnaire scores, indicating variation among probationers in their crime and desistance beliefs. Second, there was limited evidence that scores indicated systematic linear change across time. Third, direction of changes suggested probationers endorsed more negative consequences of crime and fewer positive benefits of crimes as they completed their probation period. Fourth, probationers endorsed fewer beliefs about the benefits of desistance from crime over time as legitimate opportunities became more elusive. 6 tables and 21 references