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But What Does It Mean? Defining, Measuring, and Analyzing Desistance From Crime in Criminal Justice

NCJ Number
Michael Rocque
Date Published

This white paper represents chapter one of the forthcoming NIJ release Desistance from Crime: Implications for Research, Policy, and Practice.


One focus area that has emerged from research on crime over the course of an individual’s life is what scholars call “desistance from crime.” Desistance is generally understood to mean the reduction in criminal behavior that occurs after a person reaches adulthood. But exactly what desistance is remains unclear, as varying definitions and measurement strategies have evolved over time. Because inconsistent definitions will lead to varying measurement strategies, it is difficult to come to conclusions about desistance. This white paper looks at historical research on desistance and discusses various conceptual definitions of desistance. It then reviews how researchers have measured and modeled desistance and discusses the implications of these strategies. Finally, the paper provides an overview of unresolved issues and offers a set of recommendations for policymakers, practitioners, and scholars.