A multi-cultural comparative study into the influence national level variations have on desistance from crime

Lead Research Organisation: University of Stirling
Department Name: Applied Social Science


NERC: Jessica Cleary: ES/P000681/1
Using qualitative interviews with participants involved in criminal justice interventions, collected in Québec (Canada) and Scotland prior to the exchange, this project will explore what national level characteristics and processes impact individual's ability to stop offending. Research into criminal desistance - the exploration of how and why people refrain from criminal behaviour long term - has gained increasing attention both in academia and policy in recent years. Most notably, in some international contexts the growing awareness and prioritisation of desistance research has influenced political strategies, institutional aims and objectives, and criminal justice practices. Despite the growing importance of understanding pathways to desistance; there remains a significant gap in empirical research examining the impact national-level variations have on individual's likelihood of reoffending between countries. Indeed, many significant mono-cultural studies have contributed to knowledge on desistance which allows secondary analysis across nations. However, direct international comparisons cannot conclusively be drawn for a number of reasons. For example, researchers will have inevitably designed different research questions, sampling criteria and analysis strategies. Therefore, a rigorous comparison of the role national-level variances contribute to the processes of desistance remains relatively unknown.

This project, will compare a number of nation level factors to examine whether they shape processes of desistance from crime. The proposed factors are:
national characteristics (such as, population size and imprisonment rates)
involvement and prioritisation of different societal institutions (including, social work and education)
cultural and religious beliefs
economic systems (for instance, provision of national welfare support and conditional benefit systems)

This study will not simply ask 'why do people stop offending?' but rather critically interrogate how national level characteristics and processes, societal institutions, cultural and religious beliefs and economic systems impact desistance in Scotland and Québec. In doing so, this project will identify which interventions and wider social, cultural and economic processes most markedly influence desistance in such a way that national variations will begin to be accounted for in theoretical explorations of how and why people stop offending.

Methodologically this study will generate comparative profiles of the two datasets to allow a number of outcomes to be compared at a national level including: obstacles overcome, any re-offending, de-escalation and/or acceleration in offending, desires to desist, and general improvement in objective and subjective well-being. Rigorous comparative analysis will be possible since the same interview questions will have be asked to both the Canadian and Scottish participants during the data collection phases. Additionally, analyses will also examine country-level comparisons regarding each cohort's social and personal circumstances, their usage of time and space, feelings about citizenship and inclusion, formations of 'self', and experiences of stigma and victimisation. To combination of both theses stages of analysis will enable both the interplay of personal and societal factors and their influence on the participant's ability to stop offending to be examined.

Finally, a crucial element of this project will be to write up the findings from this international study into two journal articles. To maximise the impact of these outputs the two papers will focus on two distinct aspects of desistance: individual-level factors and structural-level variables. Additionally, the dissemination plan for this project also includes presentations at research group meetings and academic conferences, as well as producing lectures for teaching modules in both Scotland and Québec.


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