School of Law, The University of Sheffield, Sheffield, South Yorkshire S10 2TN, UNITED KINGDOM.
When ex-offenders desist from crime, they do so within a given society, with its own unique cultural values and norms; typical ways of interacting with friends and acquaintances; social attitude towards crime and offenders; and its own way of doing justice. This is a rather obvious statement; nevertheless, studies of desistance to date have scarcely explored the role of wide contextual factors in processes of desistance. Furthermore, there is a dearth of comparative cross national studies that explore variations in desistance processes across societies, and thereby shed light on the influence of contextual factors. In this thesis, I begin to address this gap by exploring the role that cultures and social structures may play in shaping the dynamics of desistance. In particular, I undertook a cross national comparative study of desistance processes in England and Israel; two countries with different social-political systems and distinct cultural attributes. I employed a mixed methods approach which involved interviewing men who were desisting from crime and were supervised in the community, in each country; a statistical comparison into their use of time and space; interviews with people who worked with (ex)offenders; and a comparison of the broad social, economic, political, and cultural conditions in each country, which involved an analysis of data from the European Social Survey. The overarching objective was to develop insights about processes of desistance and the role of contextual or broad social factors in affecting them.
Based on the data collected, I identified how contextual factors structured the pathways out of crime in each country; interacted with identity and agency; and gave rise to variances in the dynamics of desistance. Overall, I argue that desistance processes were shaped by the cultural and social contexts which enveloped them, such that external and internal mechanisms of these processes were ‘oriented’ in particular ways and in accordance with contextual factors. Throughout the thesis, I draw a thread between contextual factors, the social conditions in each country, and identity and agency, to illustrate how this ‘orientation’ takes place. In conclusion, I propose a contextual framework with which to conceptualise the influence of broad social factors on desistance from crime. This study provides new insights into the role of contextual factors in processes of desistance and the underlying mechanisms involved in these processes. It is hoped that the findings will assist future researchers to understand cultures and social structures and their input when studying desistance from crime.