Desistance theory and forensic practice

Andrew Day, Mark Halsey

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


In this chapter we summarize some of the desistance literature that can help us to understand more about how, and why, people desist from crime. It is important to note from the outset that simply trying to explain how people actually “give up crime” rather than identifying those characteristics and propensities that place them at risk is likely to resonate strongly for those who are interested in more strength-focused approaches to forensic assessment and treatment. In addition, the key idea behind many contemporary desistance theories – that people can be assisted to achieve short-term psychological changes that, in turn, trigger longer-term behavioral changes which then become embedded in new personal identities – is fully consistent with the therapeutic aspirations of many allied health professionals who work in forensic settings. Accordingly, in this chapter we propose that desistance theories should not only be of great interest to those who are seeking to understand how, when, and why some people offend, but also of direct relevance to working in ways that can actually assist change to take place. There are, of course, also points of departure between the ways in which the desistance process has been understood and the assumptions that underpin a more treatment-oriented approach which we also consider. We start though by observing that one of the most important ideas contained in the desistance literature is the need to focus on “the process by which people come to cease and sustain cessation of offending behaviour” (Weaver, 2019, p. 642, emphasis added). We then outline what we see as some key elements of any desistance-informed approach.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationFacilitating Desistance from Aggression and Crime
Subtitle of host publicationTheory, Research, and Strength-Based Practices
EditorsCalvin M. Langton, James R. Worling
Place of PublicationHoboken, NJ
PublisherJohn Wiley & Sons
Number of pages17
ISBN (Electronic)9781119166504, 9781119166481
ISBN (Print)9781119166467
Publication statusPublished - 2022


  • desistance theory
  • desistance from crime
  • forensic assessment
  • forensic treatment
  • desistance literature


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