In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Desistance

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Data Sources
  • Conceptual and Methodological Issues
  • Desistance and Reentry

Criminology Desistance
Lila Kazemian
  • LAST REVIEWED: 21 April 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 14 December 2009
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396607-0056


In the field of criminology, desistance is generally defined as the cessation of offending or other antisocial behavior. However, researchers have not reached a consensus on the definition of desistance. Various authors have pointed out the shortcomings of a dichotomous definition of desistance, and some have suggested instead that a process view of desistance may provide a more accurate picture of the concept. Although desistance has become an increasingly popular research topic in recent years, it has been argued that the state of knowledge on this topic is still relatively limited. More specifically, it has been suggested that very little is known about the causal processes underlying desistance.

General Overviews

Desistance is one of the central dimensions of life-course criminology, and it is also regarded as a criminal career parameter. While few texts have focused solely on the topic of desistance, sources on developmental, life-course, and criminal career research often include a segment on desistance. Sampson and Laub 1993 and Laub and Sampson 2003 are essential readings in the area of desistance. The authors present findings from their follow-up of the males involved in the Gluecks’ original study (Glueck and Glueck 1950). LeBlanc and Fréchette 1989 investigates various criminal career parameters, including de-escalation and desistance, in their analysis of offending across the life-course for two samples of adjudicated and representative French-Canadian males. Maruna 2001 reports results from the Liverpool Desistance Study, a follow-up study of desisting former offenders and persisting offenders. This text offers a qualitative analysis of the desistance process among a group of formerly incarcerated individuals. Ezell and Cohen 2005 addresses various key questions raised by desistance researchers and conducts thorough analyses using the California Youth Authority data to elucidate some of these important issues. One of the most comprehensive reviews of the desistance literature can be found in Laub and Sampson 2001. The authors highlight the limitations of past studies on desistance, provide an overview of the theoretical frameworks developed to explain desistance, and report empirical findings on the predictors of desistance.

  • Ezell, Michael E., and Lawrence E. Cohen. 2005. Desisting from crime: Continuity and change in long-term crime patterns of serious chronic offenders. Oxford and New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    An analysis of three samples of high-rate offenders under the jurisdiction of the California Youth Authority. Addresses many key questions in desistance research, such as individual distributions of the age-crime curve, and the degree of stability and change in offending behavior across time.

  • Glueck, Sheldon, and Eleanor Glueck. 1950. Unraveling juvenile delinquency. New York: The Commonwealth Fund.

    One of the classic studies on life-course offending. Initiated in 1939, this study involved a follow-up of five hundred adjudicated and five hundred representative males from the Boston area. Information was collected through official records, self-reports, and teacher and parent reports.

  • Laub, John H., and Robert J. Sampson. 2001. Understanding desistance from crime. In Crime and justice: A review of research. Vol. 28. Edited by Michael Tonry, 1–69. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

    A comprehensive review of the desistance literature, with a discussion of various theoretical, conceptual, and methodological issues relevant to this topic. Includes an overview of the theoretical frameworks developed to explain desistance. Can be used in criminology and criminal justice courses, particularly at the graduate level.

  • Laub, John H., and Robert J. Sampson. 2003. Shared beginnings, divergent lives: Delinquent boys to age 70. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.

    The second major reanalysis of the Glueck and Glueck 1950 data, including a longer follow-up of the study participants, an investigation of the trajectories of offending, and a focus on the issue of prediction.

  • LeBlanc, Marc, and Marcel Fréchette. 1989. Male criminal activity from childhood through youth: Multilevel and developmental perspectives. New York: Springer-Verlag.

    The first major English-language text reporting results from the Montreal Two Samples Longitudinal Study. With straightforward analyses, this text is suitable for courses and researchers of all levels. While it is somewhat outdated (a revised edition is in progress), the key concepts relating to the explanation of desistance are consistent.

  • Maruna, Shadd. 2001. Making good: How ex-convicts reform and rebuild their lives. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

    A qualitative analysis of the desistance process among a sample of Liverpool males. Examines the narratives of “desisting” and “persisting” offenders. This source makes important contributions to the desistance literature, and it is written in a manner that is appropriate for students and researchers of all levels.

  • National Research Council, Committee on Community Supervision and Desistance from Crime. 2007. Parole, desistance from crime, and community reintegration. Washington, DC: National Academies.

    A review of current reentry practices, resources, and services available to formerly incarcerated individuals. A discussion of some of the major limitations of research on parole, desistance, and reintegration is presented, including shortcomings relating to parole heterogeneity, intervention effects, and methodological flaws. The report offers recommendations for policy and research.

  • Sampson, Robert J., and John H. Laub. 1993. Crime in the making: Pathways and turning points through life. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.

    The first major reanalysis of the Glueck and Glueck 1950 data, with a particular emphasis on the role of social bonds in the explanation of crime and desistance. Appropriate for specialized graduate courses on life-course or criminal career research that also address the topic of desistance, as well as for new and experienced researchers in the area.

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