Lifelines : desistance, social relations, and reciprocity

Weaver, Beth and McNeill, Fergus (2015) Lifelines : desistance, social relations, and reciprocity. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 42 (1). pp. 95-107. ISSN 0093-8548 (

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This paper draws on the life stories of a friendship group of men in their 40s who offended together in their youth and early adulthood. By exploring these inter-related narratives, we reveal individual, relational and structural contributions to the desistance process, drawing on Donati’s (2011) relational sociology. In examining these men’s social relations, this paper demonstrates the central role of friendship groups, intimate relationships, families of formation, employment and religious communities in change over the life course. It shows how, for different individuals, these relations triggered reflexive evaluation of their priorities, behaviours and lifestyles but with differing results. However, despite these differences, the common theme of these distinct stories is that desistance from crime was a means of realising and maintaining the men’s individual and relational concerns, with which continued offending became (sometimes incrementally) incompatible. In the concluding discussion, we explore some of the ethical implications of these findings, suggesting that work to support desistance should extend far beyond the typically individualised concerns of correctional practice and into a deeper and inescapably moral engagement with the (re)connection of the individual to social networks that are restorative and allow people to fulfil the reciprocal obligations on which networks and communities depend.