Going to the Other Side: Towards a Life Course Explanation of Desistance

James W. Marquart, Sam Houston State University
Janet L. Mullings, Sam Houston State University
Melissa Meltzer, Sam Houston State University

Research on recidivism has identified those offenders who fail to desist from criminal offending as these youth make the transition to adulthood. What do we know about those youth who do not recidivate? What do we know about those youth who make it or desist from criminality and successfully enter adulthood? This paper explores desistance from criminal behavior among 2,500 youth released from incarceration in 1997-1998. We examine individual, family, and community level variables to understand differences in desistance between released youth with histories of maltreatment and those with no history of maltreatment. It is imperative that research systematically examines those youth who do not offend. The criminal justice system invests heavily on front=end programs and back-end programs for high-risk offenders. Yet, one way to slow the incidence of re-offending by delinquent youth is to better understand those who desist from criminality. Armed with this information, intervention specialists can devise release plans to assist high risk youth adjust to the free community over the long term.

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Updated 05/20/2006