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Formal and Informal Influences on Desistance in Parolees

Principal Investigator (PI) / Project Lead:


Funding Organization:

University of Utah Research Foundation


Research Incentive Seed Grant Program – College of Social Work

Award Number:


Project Period:

3/1/2020 – 2/28/2022

Total Funding:


Project Status:



Project Description:

The aims of this study are threefold: 1) to address gaps in the literature with respect to the relationship between formal criminal justice interventions and informal influences, the subjective identity of persons exiting prison, and recidivism; 2) to identify differences in the pathways to recidivism for males and females exiting prison; and 3) to gather preliminary data to support a proposal to the National Institute of Justice for the solicitation Research into Desistance from Crime.



In 2015, more than one-half million (580,900) inmates were released from state prisons in the U.S. (Carson & Anderson, 2016). Between one-half to two-thirds of those were re-incarcerated within three years (Durose, Cooper, & Snyder, 2014). The impact of criminal justice interventions, including parole supervision, on re-incarceration rates has been mixed, with studies demonstrating both positive (Duwe, 2012; Jacobs & Western, 2007; Lattimore, Barrick, Cowell, Dawes, Steffey, Tueller, et al., 2012;) and negative impacts (Lattimore & Visher, 2010; McDonald, Dyous, & Carlson, 2008; Smith & Suttle, 2008). Serin and Lloyd (2009) argued the impact of criminal justice interventions on offender behavior was limited by the failure to conceptualize the correlates of successful reintegration. In contrast to correctional rehabilitation research, which focuses on criminal justice interventions, desistance research is interested in those normative developmental processes through which most offenders cease offending as they age (Farrington, 1986; Maruna, 2001). The concept of desistance emerged out of studies showing that the vast majority of adolescent offenders stop offending, or desist, as they age in the absence of correctional interventions (Farrington, 1986; Sweeten et al., 2013). Increasingly, research has sought to understand this process of desistance (Bersani & Doherty, 2018; Laub & Sampson, 2001), or the termination of offending behavior, and has identified factors that contribute to desistance and developed theoretical frameworks for understanding those influences. Nonetheless, "what we know about desistance remains significantly less than what we need to know” (Bersani & Doherty, 2018, p. 322). This is especially true with respect to knowledge about the complementary roles of formal correctional interventions and informal social influences, such as peer relationships and employment (Sullivan, 2013). There is a need to unpack the role of informal influences on desistance by examining whether subjective identity mediates the relationship between informal influences and desistance. Furthermore, it is unclear whether the process of desistance operates in the same ways for different populations of offenders. The majority of what is known about desistance comes from empirical studies utilizing samples of male offenders (Rodermond et al., 2016). Findings from a systematic review of 44 studies examining desistance reveal social influences differentially impact recidivism for females compared to males, suggesting gender may be a moderator of desistance processes (Rodermond et al., 2016).The potential for differential influences on desistance processes has not directly been examined in prior research.

This prospective study proposes to test the relationship between correctional interventions (treatment programs in prison and parole), informal social influences (such as employment, family and peer relationships) and subjective measures of identity that are theoretically linked to desistance (criminal thinking, motivation to change, and self-efficacy). The results will provide a snapshot of desistance that will be used to develop and test a longitudinal model of the desistance process.

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Last Updated: 3/2/22