By Darby Buckley
Research for this thesis seeks to understand how recently incarcerated individuals understand recidivism and how they desist from criminal activities and re-offending behaviors. It seeks to understand if desistance is occurring in a re-entry organization and if so, when. Participants from a Las Vegas, Nevada re-entry organization called HOPE for Prisoners (HFP) are the focus of this research. Overall, the purpose of this study is to see how a local re-entry non-profit organization helps assist with services and opportunities for individuals who were formerly incarcerated. Analyzing the research from this project will help provide information regarding how individuals who are participating in this local re-entry organization articulate their own desistance from crime. This research includes a convenience, non-representative sample of participants by conducting interviews with six individuals in a qualitative project seeking to understand desistance. By using the Making Good Theory by Shadd Maruna (2001), these self-narratives showed how this re-entry organization has an influence in their client’s desistance. This project seeks to dive into the self-narratives of ex-offenders to get a more descriptive answer to desistance. Future research could use this research to provide more insight on the self-narratives of offender to heighten the importance of self-agency.
Keywords: Desistance, re-entry, recidivism, self-narrative, Making Good Theory, HOPE for Prisoners
This thesis is dedicated to my family for always believing I could achieve anything I set my heart too. This is also dedicated to my dad, Keith Buckley, who has been my rock my whole life and I would not be who I am now if it was not for him. Thank you for everyone in my family for the support and giving me the strength to see more in myself than I thought was even imaginable. Thank you for guiding me and providing the wisdom to be the strong woman I am today. Thank you for always believing in me and pushing me to always make sure I have a plan for my life. Truly, I am grateful and thankful for all of you.
I would also like to say thank you to HOPE for Prisoners for giving me passion in my career and giving me a chance to work for such an amazing re-entry organization as a Case Manager. The CEO Jon Ponder, my Program Manager Carolyn Willis, M.A., I truly would not be who I am today if it was not for both of you teaching me and guiding me in the re-entry field. Thank you for recognizing my passions in corrections and helping me with this research project. I am truly blessed for my HOPE for Prisoners family.
I also want to truly say thank you to Emily Troshynski, Ph.D. It has been such a long-dedicated journey for me and without your support, I would not be here. I will always remember you as the one who provided me with the passion of corrections and re-entry in my undergraduate career to my graduate career, and now on my Thesis committee. Thank you for teaching me, guiding me, and pushing me to be the best academic. I want to say thank you to my committee members, Terance Miethe, Ph.D., Alexis Kennedy, Ph.D. and Nicholas Barr Ph.D. for the support and guidance throughout this Thesis.
Rates of incarceration throughout the United States are the highest out of any other country in the world (Wagner & Sawyer, 2018). At any given moment, the United States has over two million people incarcerated (Initiative, 2020), and they are incarcerated at alarming rates at the local, state, and federal level. In 2020, over 1.2 million people were incarcerated in State Prisons; 631,000 in local jails; and about 226,000 people in federal prisons (Initiative, 2020). This equates to a little over 2 million and does not count those individuals who are incarcerated in private facilities throughout the country.
General demographic information from the Federal Bureau of Prisons reported in February of 2021 that the median age of those incarcerated was 36. Across the United States, inmates’ primary citizenship status includes American (83.4%) and Mexican (9.3%); inmates’ ethnicity is Non-Hispanic (67%) and Hispanic (30%); gender statistics reveal that those incarcerated are 93% male and 7% female (Federal Bureau of Prisons, 2021). Specifically, when looking at imprisonment rates based on race 275 per 100,000 were White; 1,408 per 100,000 were Black; and 378 per 100,000 were Hispanic (State by State Data, 2020). Crimes of those in federal prison include 46% drug offenses, 20% weapons, explosives, arson crimes, and 11% sex offenses (Federal Bureau of Prisons, 2021).
The United States (U.S.) spends about $182 billion dollars annually on its incarceration system (Equal Justice Initiative, 2017). Further, the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) suggests that the United States. spends around $80 billion annually to incarcerate an average of 2.3 million people. However, several scholars suggest that this figure underestimates hidden and/or collateral costs borne by those incarcerated, their family members, and other loved ones (Lewis & Lockwood, 2019). Clearly, the price of incarceration impacts federal, state, and local budgets; it also effects the families of those incarcerated.
Additionally, the price of recidivism is astronomical (e.g., California Innocence Project, 2021; Nichols, 2011). For example, studies show that if a majority of states (41 out of 50) could reduce their recidivism rates by just 10 percent, more than $635 million would be saved annually (Nichols, 2011). A recidivist is someone who has been recently released from prison or jail and then commits another crime and, typically, returns back to jail or prison. Therefore, recidivism is known as the tendency of a convicted felon to re-offend. The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) (2018) states that,
Recidivism is measured by the criminal acts that results in rearrest, reconviction or return to prison with or without a new sentence during a three-year period following the prisoner’s release (p. 1).
Recidivists can also include those on probation or parole who either commit another crime or violate their probation or parole stipulations.
In fact, national re-entry evaluations suggest that 33% of all prison admissions are for parole violations (California Innocence Project, 2021). Overall, research on the amount of incarcerated individuals who later recidivate is mixed (e.g., California Innocence Project, 2021; Fahmy & Wallace, 2019; Muhlhausen, 2018; National Institute of Justice, 2018; Schlussel & Love, 2019). According to several local reports, though, over half of those released from state prisons will be reincarcerated within 36 months post-release (Nevada Department of Corrections [NDOC], 2019).
Specific to national recidivism research, a recent Bureau of Justice Statistics (2018) study included a 9-year follow up on over 400,000 prisoners. Data for this study was pulled from state corrections’ prisoner records that were reported to the BJS’s National Corrections Reporting Program. Based on this data, researchers found that 401,288 state prisoners were released in 2005 and that 1,994,000 arrests happened, over the course of a 9-year period (Alpher & Durose, 2018). Importantly, the report noted that there was an average of 5 arrests per prisoner and an estimated 68% of the prisoners were re-arrested within a 3-year period. Further, 79% of these ex prisoners were re-arrested within 6 years, and 83% in 9 years (Alpher & Durose, 2018). Clearly, rates of recidivism is a serious issue in the United States. These figures demonstrate the importance in understanding experiences of recidivism including barriers to successful re-entry post-incarceration.
Recidivism occurs due to a variety of personal, lifestyle, economic, and sociological factors (NIJ, 2018). Being formerly incarcerated can become a huge barrier in one’s life due to the stigma associated with being an ex-felon (NIJ, 2018). For these individuals, they already experience barriers due to being poor, undereducated, and of minority status. Additionally, ex offenders who have recently been released from an incarcerated setting are unemployed and have a difficult time finding full-time work. Race and socioeconomic disparities are shown to contribute to recidivism (Flores, 2018). Indeed, research suggests that having a felony conviction inhibits ex-convicts from employment, housing, education, and voting opportunities in their community (Estrad, 2018). Thus, consequences of merely having a criminal background can then lead ex-felons to face challenges/barriers that might lead them back into the same criminal lifestyle they were in before (Estrad, 2018).
Importantly, though, rates of recidivism are also connected to rates of poverty and unemployment, as well as homelessness and access to affordable housing (Muhlhausen, 2018). Even so, rates of recidivism have also been shown to be affected by re-entry services provided to those recently released from jails and prisons. Re-entry, as defined on the Bureau of Justice Statistics website,
…is a broad term used to refer to issues related to the transition of offenders from prison to community supervision. Re-entry on this site refers to persons released from State or Federal prisons or discharged from State parole, Federal parole, or Federal Supervised Release. Persons released from local jails are not included. (BJS, 2020)
The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), reporting on re-entry trends, found that, in 2001, about 592,000 state prison inmates were released back into the community after serving their time. Then, in 2002, BJS reported that 670,000 adults were under state parole supervision (Hughes & Wilson, 2020). These individuals, when released into the community, face a high number of challenges that can range from unemployment, housing needs, family reunification, and educational challenges, etc.
Re-entry organizations that provide myriad services for those recently released have been found to be influential in helping them navigate employment and housing issues, family reunification difficulties, substance abuse, legal cases, and personal struggles (e.g., Day, Wodak, Graffam, Baldry, & Davey, 2017, LeBel, Richie, & Maruna, 2014; Troshynski et al., 2016). Access to these types of services have been shown to have an impact on whether or not an ex offender will recidivate (e.g., Day et al., 2017; LeBel et al., 2014; Troshynski et al., 2016).
Yet, similar to mixed findings on recidivism, research addressing what makes persons more or less likely to not recidivate upon release is also mixed (e.g., Fahmy & Wallace, 2019; Muhlhausen, 2018; Schlussel & Love, 2019). Overall, thought, research does show that re-entry organizations provide important services and opportunities for ex-offenders; and that they also affect ex-offenders’ understandings of desisting from delinquency, criminal activities, and prior criminal offending patterns (LeBel et al., 2014). Desistance is generally referred to as the cessation of offending patterns. Therefore, desistance occurs when an individual with a prior pattern of engaging in criminal activities comes to abstain from them (e.g., LeBel et al., 2014; Maruna, 2001). Thus, understanding how and why people desist from crime is an imperative step in understanding recidivism more broadly.
The Current Project
Research for this thesis seeks to understand how recently incarcerated individuals understand recidivism and how they desist from criminal activities, as well as re-offending patterns. It seeks to understand if desistance is occurring in a re-entry organization and if so, when. Participants from a local re-entry organization called HOPE for Prisoners (HFP) are the focus of this research. Overall, the purpose of this study is to see how a local re-entry non-profit organization helps assist with services and opportunities for individuals who were formerly incarcerated. Analyzing the research from this project, will help provide information regarding how individuals who are participating in this local re-entry organization articulate their own desistance from crime.
This study includes ideas developed from prior research published in Making Good by Shadd Maruna (2001). Within this research manuscript, Maruna (2001) proposes a theory that is known in life-course criminology for explaining how people who have criminal records turn their lives around and desist from committing future crime. Maruna states that ex-offenders have a lot to tell – to themselves and others – by telling a story about their past and convincingly their reform (Maruna, 2001). Therefore, there is a main focus on personal reform and how this reform is connected to services and resources available to them (i.e., example include offender counseling and a range of rehabilitation services). Ex-criminals who have desisted from crime are shown to construct new scripts associated with reasons that have led them to making sense of what has happened to them. These narratives are shown to help participants create and implement productive behaviors. Additionally, findings from Maruna’s research suggest that participants also experience increased feelings of self-control as well as having better control over their future.
Including ideas from Maruna’s prior research, as well as focusing on the self-narratives of recently incarcerated, this project departs from current literature where recidivism and re-entry experiences have been quantified in evaluation studies. For example, the majority of research on recidivism has a high focus on statistics rather than analyzing individuals’ personal qualitative experiences. Embracing the depth and context of participants’ re-entry experiences, this research includes qualitative analysis of several individual interviews. With a focus on how participants understand their own re-entry experiences, including how programs and services impact their successes, this type of research is important for broadening our collective understandings of recidivism and desistance. From this, examples of how formerly incarcerated individuals create lives of productivity and purpose are paramount.
REVIEW OF RELEVANT RESEARCH
As noted throughout the previous chapter, the United States incarcerates more persons per capita than any other country; rates of incarceration are devastatingly high as is the price of mass incarceration (Currie, 2013; Initiative, 2020). Not only does the United States. have the highest rates of incarceration, but also boasts the highest rates of recidivism in the world. Persons are released from incarcerated settings, return home, and re-offend (or are re-arrested for a parole violation) and return back to jails/prisons. This costly cycle is just one reason why understanding re-entry is so important, even when focusing on local initiatives.
The following chapter includes a summary of relevant national and local research on recidivism and re-entry. Understanding rates of, and experiences with, recidivism has been shown to be a very prominent and growing field in criminal justice research. Additionally, research on re-entry, including understanding barriers and successes associated with re-entry experiences, has also been a growing subfield within the discipline. Within these research areas, concepts like “desistance” and “persistence” are utilized to described important turning points in an ex-convict’s re-entry experience.
Therefore, research that includes a focus on desistance are also included herein. This is the first research area covered within this chapter. Then, recent research dedicated to re-entry programs and reductions in rates of recidivism follows. Third, and last, research on barriers to re entry highlight notable resources, services, and programs that have been found to be instrumental in helping ex-convicts navigate their lives post-incarceration.
Re-entry Programs & Desistance
“Desistance,” a term used within the field of criminology, is described as the process of keeping up with a crime-free lifestyle (e.g., Maruna, 2010; Sundt, 2010). One of the best-known studies of desistance was conducted by Maruna (2010) and, from that, we have the following definition:
“Desistance might more productively be defined as the long-term abstinence from crime among individuals who has previously engaged in a persistent pattern of criminal offending” (p. 26).
Overall, then, desistance occurs when people who were previously incarcerated (sometimes referred to as “ex-offenders”) come to abstain from crime and/or criminal activities.
Desistance, or desisting from crime, is a primary concept. The goal is intimately associated with recidivism. The Bureau of Justice Statistics states, in their 2018 report, that desistance provides a deeper understanding of criminal behavior and justice policies. Thus, desistance patterns are often included in re-entry program evaluations namely when measuring program effectiveness associated with resources and provider services (Alpher & Durose, 2018).
Further, research on desistance demonstrates how prison industries have an important role in contributing to the successful reintegration of ex-offenders (Day, Wodak, Graffam, Baldry, & Davey, 2017). Prior research completed on successful prison programs that help offenders not re-offend and, instead, desist from crime demonstrates the importance in prison programs that assist ex-offenders with employment opportunities post-release. For example, in a 6-month re-entry evaluation, Day and colleagues (2017) found that, of the 53 released ex offenders who participated in their research, 27 gained employment, 2 enrolled in education classes, 2 were offered work but could not take the job, 1 relocated, and 12 did not keep in contact with the program post-release. Overall, their findings suggest that employment programs are helpful in assisting those who are about to be released from prison.
Specific to understanding desistance, findings from this research suggest that an increased awareness of offence-related needs, attitudes, and behaviors of those who worked at the program were also useful (Day et al., 2017). Well-trained staff were found to be more helpful in assisting ex-offenders to become pro-social. Additionally, staff that encouraged participants to focus on the positive aspects of themselves were found to help with the creation of a positive re entry narrative. Specifically, positive self-identification was found to help ex-offender’s build a new identity, embrace a new community with positive peers, and work productively within the community. Together, these factors contributed to desistance and decreased rates of recidivism (Day et al., 2017). These areas were, then, connected to specific re-entry services and were found to help with ex-offenders achieving the overarching goal of desistance.
Similarly, David Abeling-Judge’s (2016) research focuses on different social influences and how they can affect desistance for offenders. In addressing the lack of research completed on individual-level influences, this research includes informal (self) controls that might influence the decline of criminal behavior. Utilizing data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (1997), this research focused on connections between social developments, criminal activity, and arrests.
Interestingly enough, the main social influences that were found to impact informal (self) controls included marriage and employment. Specifically, results from this study showed that marriage reduced arrests by 31%: For males only, marriage decreased the likelihood of arrests by 25%; for females, 38% (Abeling-Judge, 2016). Additionally, being a male, a parent, and having experienced a hard childhood increased the likelihood of being arrested as did being African American. If an individual came from a “good” and/or “stable” family, their likelihood of being arrested was greatly reduced (Abeling-Judge, 2016). Women who were African American with a stable childhood decreased their likelihood of being arrested; employment for women also decreased the likelihood of being arrested by 13% (Abeling-Judge, 2016). The results of this research show how social factors impact offending patterns, arrest trends, and rates of desistance from crime. Marriage and employment were discussed as “social ties” that were viewed as being important to anyone trying to desist from crime.
Overall, these projects highlight the significance of social controls and how they reduce the likelihood of future criminal behavior. Research dedicated to understanding desistance for drug-involved ex-convicts focused on narratives associated with non-offender identity formation. Herein, Ronet Bachman, Erin Kerrison, Raymond Paternoster, Daniel O’Connell and Lionel Smith (2015) incorporated theories of desistance in a longitudinal analysis of drug-involved criminals released in Delaware in the early 1990’s. The sample included 1,250 male and female offenders who were randomly assigned and then interviewed while still in prison 9 months before release. Post-release, participants were then re-interviewed at 6, 18, 42, and 60 months (Bachman et al., 2015).
Those interviewed were 79% male and 73% African American. Importantly, these authors state that qualitative measures helped examine cognitive mechanisms (i.e., analysis of the respondent’s own words and narratives) necessary throughout the process of identity transformation. Themes associated with these narratives included: feared self; perceptual process of connecting past failures; the process of changing preferences on the road to a prosocial identify; and desistance. Furthermore, the authors highlighted that employment and marriage were important turning points associated with the last thematic narrative of desistance (Bachman et al., 2015).
Findings from these research articles provide insight into how there are multiple ways to measure desistance. There are connections between understanding desistance and the role it plays in recidivism, as well as re-entry. Next, research that connects re-entry programs and recidivism are explored.
Re-entry Programs & Recidivism
Recidivism as mentioned prior, is a very important component to understanding incarceration and re-entry experiences. If the goal is to reduce rates of offending as well as rates of re-offending (i.e., recidivism), then it is imperative to understand more about prevention and
re-entry programs. Of late, the U.S. federal government has taken some action in passing Acts and bills that help set up monetary support for such incentives. Specifically, housed under the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) is funding from the Second Chance Act (SCA).
The Second Chance Act of 2007 was developed to respond to the increase rate of incarcerated persons returning home to their communities, help break the cycle of criminal recidivism, and improve public safety (BJA, 2016). Since 2009, the BJA has authorized the use of $475 million in grants, training, and technical assistance and, from this, has funded seven separate SCA grants. These grants have helped provide housing, education, and employment opportunities for individuals returning home from incarcerated settings. Additionally, these grants also focus on family reunification, pro-social relationship building, as well as drug and alcohol abuse. Since the creation of this Act, the BJA has allocated 600 SCA awards to entities working in the area of re-entry within 49 states. Of the 49 states that received SCA moneys, 113,000 individuals have benefited/participated in resources, services, and programming made available from these funds. There is yet to be an evaluation completed on whether or not, and to what extent, these SCA awarded programs have reduced rates of recidivism.
Similarly, in publishing the first comprehensive analysis of 35 evaluations of community based prisoner re-entry programs published in the past decade, authors Wright, Zhang, Farabee and Braatz (2014) rightly note the reality that there is a diminutive amount of research available. Their evaluation of 35 studies involving 29 different re-entry programs noted the most common features found included life skills and substance abuse treatment (Wright et al., 2014). Of all the 35 studies evaluated for this analysis involved primary systematic quantitative data collection. Importantly, there was also a comparative component to this review of re-entry evaluations: Twenty-four studies of 22 programs were evaluations conducted within the United States and 11 studies of 7 programs were evaluations of international re-entry programs, among which were seven evaluations of three different United Kingdom based programs (Wright et al., 2014).
Most of the re-entry programs reviewed herein attempted to treat a wide range of offenders. The evaluated programs, overall, offered a wide range of treatment and service options. The most common treatment option was substance abuse counseling (59% of the 29 different re-entry programs offered this); the least available treatment option was aftercare (only 24% of 29 programs offered this) (Wright et al., 2014). In examining the effectiveness, methodological rigor, and design of treatment programs available, the authors found that no program was successful, and no program was unsuccessful. Yet, those programs that provided post-release after care and housing assistance were the most likely services to produce favorable outcome; they were also the programs that demonstrated the greatest positive effects on participants’ lives.
Overall, and in terms of methodology, studies using random assignment remained the exception in the evaluation of re-entry programs while quasi-experimental designs continue to be the dominant evaluation strategy representing 86% of studies completed to date (Wright et al., 2014). Clearly much more research is needed including research on barriers associated with re entry as well as research on desistance and its connection to re-entry resources/services. The little research we have on re-entry barriers is discussed next.
Societal re-entry barriers are important when addressing reasons why an ex-offender might resort back to crime. For example, Erstad (2018) states that the number one barrier is employment. This is a high factor associated with recidivism as employers will most likely not hire those with any sort of background on their record. If a felon cannot find work, they might resort to illegal matters to be able to make money (Estrad, 2018). There are challenges faced by low-skilled men released from U.S prisons, which are employment barriers with emphasis on how employers view criminal records in screening job applicants (Raphael, 2016).
Sesha Kethineni and David Falcone (2007) discuss legal and extra-legal factors regarding employment for ex-offenders in the United States. When offenders are released into the community, the authors state that the factor of stigma and discrimination has a huge role in not being able to get employed. When one has a criminal record, this can exclude offenders and make them prone to being discriminated due to social stigmas of being looked down for having a background. The authors also discuss employers’ concerns and state that in a study conducted by Holzer at al. (2002) and Petersilia (1999), this was shown to be prominent. In a survey they conducted, they found that in five cities, 65 per cent of all employers were not willing to hire ex offenders due to their background (Kethineni & Falcone, 2007). There is state statutes, programmes and case law regarding certain employers needing to screen applicants due to safety to workplace, but this makes states have limitations on how background checks should be used (Kethineni & Falcone, 2007). There are also federal policies and legal barriers regarding hiring ex-offenders regarding giving authority to look up criminal backgrounds, but the authors state how there has been federal programs created to help this vulnerable population with training and employment.
The second barrier is associated with finding or securing affordable housing. For example, research suggests that, landlords might refuse to rent to those who have a criminal record/background (e.g., Estrad, 2018; Garland, Wodahl, & Saxon, 2014). The answer to be able to help with housing is to have transitional housing. Yet, findings from prior studies suggest that an obstacle to this is the public resistance of support for these ex-offenders (Garland et al., 2014). Additionally, this can possibly put them towards living with friends or family that could have been bad influences (Brown, Wingert, Higgit, Knol, Block, Barkman, and Charrette, 2008; Estrad, 2018). Brown et al. (2008) state that the ex-offenders who they interviewed lived with family, friends, halfway houses, and/or renting houses or hotels. This was an interview on indigenous people who have been formerly incarcerated in Canada but found that housing models need to be developed for this population for them to successfully re-enter the community.
A third barrier identified in research is education (Estard, 2018; Jovanic, 2011). For example, a percentage of ex-offenders do not have a G.E.D. or High School Diploma. Since an ex-offender already has the barrier of their background prohibiting them from employment, not having a G.E.D. and/or High School Diploma adds to the barrier of gaining employment (Estrad, 2018; Jovanic, 2011). For these lesser-educated men, and especially less-educated men of color, the likelihood of serving in prison time is high (Raphael, 2016). Goran Jovanic created an article discussing how the United States needs to look at Serbia as they are ensuring educational rights for inmates (2011). He highlights the importance of prison education because this helps the prisoners for their reintegration into society. Funding for prisoner education is inconsistent and challenging in the United States due to funding issues (Lewis & Lockwood, 2019).
The last barrier identified is voting (Estrad, 2018). This is one of the barriers that least correlates with recidivism, but it is an important one to mention. Not being able to vote can make one feel like they are not involved in their community or a member of society. Bryan Miller and Joseph Spillane discuss in an article about how when civil rights are lost for those were incarcerated or are on probation, this can be difficult when reintegrating into society (2012). They conducted interviews with ex-felons to ask them about losing their right to vote and these offenders did find this as an obstacle to be able to re-enter into society. These barriers are all prominent factors of why an ex-offender could recidivate.
Transitional cash assistance, the use of re-entry plans, traditional workforce development efforts, and transitional jobs for former inmates all are among the tools used across the U.S as re entry efforts to help reduce recidivism (Raphael, 2016). There is also a focus on the effectiveness of these programmatic interventions and how well they are being used to minimize barriers associated with re-entry. These articles provide insight on the challenges ex-offenders face when they are released, why they might re-offend, and how re-entry programs are successful in reducing recidivism.
This research project will be utilizing concepts articulated within Making Good by Shadd Maruna (2001). Within this research manuscript, Maruna proposes a theory the Making Good Theory. Similar to theories within life-course criminology, Maruna’s research helps explain how people who have long criminal records of criminal activity turn their lives around and desist from committing future crime. Maruna states that ex-offenders have a lot to tell – to themselves and to others – by sharing a story about their past and convincingly their reform (Maruna, 2011). These narratives are shown to help participants create and implement productive behaviors. This chapter aims to discuss the backbone of the project by providing an in-depth discussion on the framework of the Making Good Theory created by Maruna in 2001 on desistance, introductions to other research completed by Maruna, and then summarizing other research that incorporates the Making Good Theory including some limitations.
Reviewing Making Good Theory (Maruna, 2001)
This research has a main focus on the stories of these offenders and how this can really get to understanding the transformation of their lives (Maruna, 2001). The research states that people who have long criminal histories turn their lives around for the better and this then leads them to stay away from crime. This is a life-course theory which focuses on how criminal behavior changes over time. The focus of their reform is on the stories again, told by the offenders. These stories that are told are then shaping the behavior of the ex-offender. Interpretations and self-perceptions are made by the individuals to how they respond to certain situations. There is a focus on persisters and desisters, and this is different regarding the individual thinking about themselves and their future.
There is a main focus on personal reform as well as offender counseling and rehabilitation (Maruna, 2001). Criminals who desist from crime have constructed main reasons that have led them to making sense of what has happened to them. Additionally, findings suggest that participants also experience increased feelings of self-control including having control of their future (Maruna, 2001). The focus of their personal reform is in the stories the participants tell.
There are also different ways of self-narration in this theory. These descriptions are the condemnation script vs. redemption script. This is the difference of a lack of personal agency regarding having nothing to lose vs. a story that they redeem themselves of their past (Maruna, 2001). The condemnation script is focused on the offender being doomed to re-offend. These stories lacked personal agency and they would also add to their criminal behavior by stigma and also criminal peers. Ex-offenders also would show how success makes them feel freer. In the redemption script, ex-offenders feel something good will come out of being a criminal in the past (Maruna, 2001). They will mention in their self-story that there is a difference in crime and their true self.
Maruna’s framework in his Making Good publication discuss main points of being able to tell from an offender’s self-narrative if they will re-offend or desist (2001). The main theoretical points in this are in the redemption script vs. condemnation script in self-narratives. The redemption script is recognizing true-self, having optimism, and wanting to give back to the community. The condemnation script it being doomed to deviance, they will not succeed in life, and are victims of forces beyond their control. The further research addressed in this chapter will be research that used the Making Good Theory, Maruna’s other research on desistance, and noted limitations of the Making Good Theory.
Adaptions of Making Good Theory
Of late, researchers have incorporated aspects of Maruna’s Making Good Theory. For example, Matthew Mizel and Laura Abrams (2018) focus on success factors associated with desistance. The authors conducted nine focus groups with 40 men on parole or probation, with seven groups with men aged 18-25. The other two focus groups were men that were aged 29-60 years old. These focus groups focused on how psychosocial maturation contributes to acts of desistance via several thematic scripts: personal growth, learning from mistakes, considering consequences before acting, developing and executing long-range plans, improving peer associations, and recognizing and responding in the right way to a motivating event. These scripts were found to contribute to their desire to change their re-offending behavior (Mizel et al., 2018). These are all important factors when providing further insight into the reasons why ex-offenders might desist from crime and what factors can support their desistance goals.
Furthermore, patterns in desistance provides answers regarding why offenders stay away from crime after being a criminal. Fergus McNeill in 2006, discussed a desistance paradigm and how this can help with offender management. A highlight in this article is the focus on past research on desistance that demonstrates a need to re-evaluate probation paradigms due to a long history that went against ex-offender treatment models. McNeil suggests that, by exposing the weaknesses in prior treatment paradigms, we better understand the core values associated with probation. Treatment plans are more officer-centered and less offender-centered (McNeil, 2006).
Deriving from the discipline of social work, McNeil (2006) suggests that paradigms need to address ex-offender/client diagnosis, treatment, and dependent needs as a basis for re-entry programs. Further, pulling from prior research conducted by Raynor and Vanstone (1994), McNeil (2006) also notes that future paradigms should include notions of help (with a commitment to the reduction of harm), shared assessment (opportunities for collaborative involvement in a process of change), and collaboratively defined tasks (re-thinking criminogenic needs and whether or not the client can be effective in meeting them). McNeil argues that all of these paradigms start by focusing on how practice (treatment, services, or programs) should be assembled but fail to address how change should be recognized (McNeil, 2006). Therefore, ideas about desistance strategies and how to incorporate these into probation and parole paradigms are greatly needed.
The author acknowledges Maruna’s research and states that desistance is not an event but a process (McNeil, 2006). Probation can have a huge role in helping with desistance. McNeil suggests implications for a desistance paradigm and states these are developing practices that express certain virtues. Interventions should be embedded in the understanding of desistance and this is described as: structure, agency, reflexivity, and identity. These interventions need to:
“Respect and foster agency and reflexivity; they need to be based on legitimate and respectful relationships; they need to focus on social capital as well as human capital; and they need to exploit strengths as well as addressing needs and risks” (McNeil, 2006, p. 54).
The author also states that there should be a support in rehabilitation efforts that entail offenders “making good” via understanding how they have suffered injustice(s).
Therefore, for McNeil, society must also “make good” to this individual and a proposed desistance paradigm should, “Help in navigating towards desistance to reduce harm and make good to offenders and victims; explicit dialogue and negotiation assessing risks, needs, strengths and resources and offering opportunities to make good; and collaboratively defined tasks which tackle risks, needs and obstacles to desistance by using and developing the offender’s human and social capital” (McNeil, 2006, p. 56).
Adapting desistance frameworks in different areas of corrections has been shown to be important in academic research. Maruna has focused a lot on desistance in his research, especially after his main research project of the Liverpool Desistance Study he conducted in 2001. He uses this research to reflect on other ways to analyze desistance by discussing theories and discussing the importance of focusing on offenders’ contributions to have a positive life in society.
Maruna and Colleagues Research on Styles of Desistance
Maruna produced a lot of academic journals on desistance after his book he produced in 2001. In May of 2004, he published a study he conducted expanding on cognitive perspectives regarding offender verbalizations focusing on which offenders accepted responsibility for their mistakes (Maruna, 2004). The findings in this research incorporated psychological compositions with an “explanatory style”. This is described as, “… a person’s tendency to offer similar sorts of explanations for different events in their life narrative” (Maruna, 2004, p.185.). In this psychology perspective, individuals construct reasons for prominent and unexpected life events and these thought processes can be responsible for repetitive actions of over a period of time. They use this perspective in depression and therapy research. Research states that, using this psychology style, individuals processing biases occur in three cognitive ways: internality vs. externality (I am responsible vs. Someone else’s fault), stability vs. instability (The cause is going to last forever vs. short-lived), and globality vs. specificity (It is going to affect everything I do vs. only one thing).
The data he collected in the Liverpool Desistance Study (LDS) for his book in 2001, Maruna (2004) analyzed the data to explore an explanatory style in the desistance process. The goal of this research was to get an understanding of the mindset that showed to support attempts to “go straight” and stay away from crime. Those who showed the most desistance, “…were once long-term, habitual offenders, but who at the time of the interview had been crime-free and drug free for more than a year, and it is important that they also reported having no plans for future involvement in criminal behavior” (Maruna, 2004, p. 189).
Maruna (2004) also explored social cognition in criminal behavior. Maruna analyzed these transcripts using Peterson, Schulman, Castellon, and Seligman’s (1992) Content Analysis of Verbatim Explanations (CAVE) system and helped to expand explanatory styles in research (2004). This measures cross-event consistency in narratives based on certain positive and negative events in the lives of the participants.
The results of this study found that offenders who were active and those who desisted were different in their explanatory styles (Maruna, 2004). The offenders who were active tended to interpret negative events in their lives as: internal, stable, and global forces. Active offenders also shown that good events in their lives was interpreted as: external, unstable, and specific causes. Thus, this research demonstrated a relationship between desistance and they explanatory style produced by one’s narrative and highlights the importance of how criminal justice research should focus more on offender’s attributions for positive life-events (Maruna, 2004).
In later theoretical publications (see Maruna, Lebel, Mitchell, and Naples, 2006) focusing on social psychology, the authors state how it is easier to show one as deviant, than to show one as being reformed. Risk assessments have been created to help with predicting if an offender might re-offend but that the problem still lies in the reality that they are not as accurate as criminologists and researchers would like them to be (Maruna et al., 2006). When an offender suffers from drug abuse, this can make it more challenging for the offender to change as it could be short-lived (Maruna et al., 2006). Community members and employers who have skepticism towards ex-offenders’ statements of reformation can lead to their lack of success and this can produce higher recidivism rates,
“If society is unwilling to take a chance on an individual who is trying to make an effort toward desistance, then these obstacles might lead to further recidivism” (Maruna et al, 2006, p. 272).
This quote demonstrates how labeling theory is important when discussing desistance.
Further, Maruna and colleagues (2006) discuss the importance of “de-labeling” and how this is the certification stage of desistance. This process can assist offenders with identifying themselves as law-abiding identities particularly when they are faced with adversity and are pushed to not give up (Maruna et al., 2006). Most individuals who successfully go straight rely on a person who is on good moral standing; one who has also witnessed this person’s reform. For example, research on the Father Peter Young’s Housing Industry and Treatment Program for ex offenders in New York State focused on how assisting individuals with finding, securing housing, providing addiction counseling, and job training were helpful in increasing desistance.
When interviewing the clients and counselors of this program, they were asked to provide specific signs of reformation or rehabilitation. Yet, this was difficult for them to answer; the counselors of the program seemed to show resistance when assessing the clients change or desistance (Maruna et al., 2006). The point is that, if others fail to recognize them as success stories (or fail to understand whether or not they are desisting), participants/clients/ex-offenders will not appear to believe it themselves. Further, if the counselor/case manager believes in the client’s abilities, the client will too. Thus, the importance of this research suggests that de labeling, and helping offenders believe that they are a success story, is paramount to a successful re-entry experience inclusive of desisting from crime.
Connected to de-labeling is a concept in desistance known as, “knifing off”. This is described by Maruna and Roy in an article published in 2007. Herein, knifing off is described as the “ritual wiping out of self” yet definitions of knifing off have been difficult to describe. There are articles addressing knifing off as, “…opportunities that help one break away from not just apron strings but from a variety of contaminated past situations. (Maruna & Roy, 2007, p. 105). Basically, it’s a phrase for believe that changes in an offender’s personality and behavior can happen due to huge changes in their life circumstances: “You better knife off your past before it knifes off your future” (Maruna & Roy, 2007, p. 107).
These authors have stated that knifing off “the past from your present” means moving on from your past (Maruna & Roy, 2007). This process relates to desistance by describing changing one’s ways without an explanatory framework. Other authors describe the objective of knifing off as getting rid of “old roles”, “past social and personal difficulties”, and being cut from one’s roles of delinquency (Maruna & Roy, 2007, p. 107- 108). This concept includes knifing off one’s companions by changing their association habits is connected to differential association theory.
Additionally, there is a connection to knifing off one’s criminal stigmatization and this relates to labeling theory by removing the internalized deviant label and decreasing stigmatization. The last mentioned is the knifing off of social circumstances that limit old options, and this relates to social control theory (Maruna & Roy, 2007). The authors recommend that more research is needed in the development of understanding how knifing off helps with desistance, and how life scripts are significant in constructing a non-deviant future.
Overall, narrative scripts from offenders are highly valuable in determining desistance and this can even be relatable to probation. As seen, Maruna does have a huge focus on desistance in his research by trying to accurately measure it in his research using different theories. Many theories can be traced back to the desistance and has been described in this section. Furthermore, there are limitations when discussing the Making Good Theory by Maruna.
In a review essay named Making Criminology Good: A Response to Shadd Maruna by David Gadd in 2003, he mentions how Maruna’s research was a contribution into society and psychology ex-offender research. The author does mention how Maruna focuses on psychosocial, but that he does not answer the subjectiveness of criminological research subjects (Gadd, 2003). The relationship between social/psychological needs to be mentioned in the research that Maruna conducted and published. The author states how this could help with answering why offenders might desist from crime, rather than focusing on social factors that might also make them desist.
David Gadd states that one of the strengths of Maruna’s research is that it introduces the relationship between criminology psychosocial terrain (2003). He also states how in research, he asks questions on “how” offenders are able to make good against their societal challenges vs. criminologists usually asking “why” questions, which can limit the answers a researcher might receive (Gadd, 2003). Gadd states how in Shadd’s research, it did not matter how big his sample was because he successfully showed those who desisted and those who didn’t based on depth and interpretation. Shadd was able to find key differences in the way that desisters and persisters narrate their story.
David Gadd goes into criticisms of Maruna’s work, he states how Maruna did not provide in-depth information of the subjectivity of any ex-offender he interviewed in his Liverpool Desistance Study (2003). This is a problem when discussing the differences of psychological and sociological processes. Gadd states how Maruna did not focus on the “biological uniqueness of the ex-offenders’ motives, anxieties, and desires and their relation to investments in common social narratives to reform” (2003, p. 320). This produces psychological disorderliness, which can be troublesome to understanding why one has the motivation to change. In criminological work, this research Maruna conducted raises a challenge as criminologists should not just focus on socio-cultural falls to crime, but also to the psychological component to these narratives as well (Gadd, 2003).
Shadd Maruna, Thomas Lebel, Nick Mitchell and Michelle Naples were mentioned earlier in this chapter, but they state that a prominent limitation in desistance research by discussing the social control theory and the measurement of desistance. This is discussed in this article. Specific to theories of desistance, Maruna and colleagues (2006), discuss different theories that have supported the concept of desistance over the years. Interestingly enough, they also note that a major limitation in this type of research derives from inconsistent operationalization and definitions of desistance. They state that desistance is hard to operationalize due to, as Farrington (1986) previously noted, “Even a five-year or ten-year crime-free period is no guarantee that offending has terminated” (Maruna et al., 2006, p. 272).
The main theories of desistance were noted as social control theory (Sampson & Laub, 1993), differential association theory (Warr, 2002), and cognitive psychology (e.g., Giordano et al., 2002; Maruna et al., 2006). Several reviews note that there needs to be a second look at labeling theory when discussing desistance by focusing on the looking-glass perspective. This perspective provides a deeper understanding of the reform process, how rehabilitation is negotiated through interactions with ex-offenders and significant others. The ex-offender needs to accept society in order to desist, but society needs to accept this person too.
These descriptions of the Making Good by Maruna provides perspective on this framework being used in research. Based on the findings from Making Good by Maruna (2001), this thesis will help with determining when desistance is occurring in the HOPE for Prisoners program by analyzing the self-narratives of a variety of clients in different stages in the program. This research will be able to provide insight on how HOPE for Prisoners influences personal reform within the individuals and at what stage in the program that change is occurring. This research can also assist other organizations by realizing the importance of client’s personal reform by using the self-narration of desistance.
METHODS OF THE STUDY
With a focus on understandings of desistance, the purpose of this study is to see how a re entry non-profit organization, HOPE for Prisoners (HFP), can help assist with changing the self narratives of individuals who were formerly incarcerated. HOPE for Prisoners is a re-entry, non profit organization that provides resources to those who were formerly incarcerated. Currently HFP serves around 240 clients annually with services in programming, substance abuse treatment, mentorship, employment, vocational training, interviewing, resume making, etc.
This chapter will discuss the methods of the current thesis project. First, information about state-level rates of incarceration and recidivism are provided to give context to the need for this local-level re-entry project. Then, information about the research site location is offered including an in-depth description of services provided at the local re-entry organization, HOPE for Prisoners (HFP). Following a description of the research site location, the methods of the thesis will be discussed including the use of qualitative narrative frameworks developed based on Maruna’s (2001) research on desistance.
Rates of Incarceration and Recidivism, Nevada:
In Nevada, the state of the research site location, the incarceration rate is 763 per 100,000 people. This rate includes those persons incarcerated in prisons, jails, immigration detention, and juvenile justice centers (Initiative, 2020). There were 23,000 residents locked up in 2015 and it varied by 13,000 in state prisons, 7,200 in local jails, 1,800 in federal prisons, and 700 in other facilities (Initiative, 2020). In 2010, 2,624 per 100,000 incarcerated in Nevada were Black, 1,329 American Indian, 635 Hispanic, and 604 White (Initiative, 2020). The state of Nevada does have a higher incarceration rate per 100,000 than several other states and this rate (763 per 100,000) is higher than the overall rate of incarceration for the entire United States (698 per 100,00 for the national average) (Initiative, 2020). Please see Figure 1 for Nevada’s crimes in 2016 by the FBI’s UCR website (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2016).
Table 1. Nevada’s Crimes in 2016 by the Federal Bureau of Investigation; UCR
In Nevada, the State Department of Corrections (NDOC, 2020) recently released statistics on recidivism. In this report, the NDOC stated that, in 2016, the rate of Nevada felony offenders to reoffend was 24.62% (Livingston, 2020). The number of individuals released in 2016 was 5,041 inmates and they looked at 36 months after release (Livingston, 2020). In 2014, the Nevada Department of Corrections (NDOC) conducted a recidivism analysis on a 2014 cohort of released inmates and found that offenders at the age of 17 were 43% likely to return back to jail/prison and that property and drug offenders had the largest rates of returns (Offender Management Division, 2017).
The sample in this article only included individuals that were serving time in Nevada’s prisons. NDOC stated that,
“During 2014, 1,963 felons were released on parole and 3,297 discharged their sentences. Of the 5,260 total that left the prison system, 1,506 or 28.63% were re-incarcerated by the end of 2017. Females and males were statistically equally likely to return, and habitual offenders had much larger predictive probability of returning to prison within 36 months after release than non-habitual individuals” (Offender Management Division, 2017, n.d.)
These facts and figures further demonstrate that there is a need to learn more about recidivism and re-entry initiatives at the local level. This project seeks to do just that.
Research Site Location: HOPE for Prisoners & Demographics
HOPE for Prisoners is a re-entry non-profit organization based in Las Vegas, Nevada. This organization’s mission is to help men, women, and young adults successfully reenter the workforce, their families, and the community post-incarceration (HOPE for Prisoners, 2020). HOPE for Prisoners assists with re-entry by “…providing long-term support and services as they
work to reclaim their lives, families and standing in the community” (HOPE for Prisoners, 2020)1. Programs and non-profit organizations that focus on assisting individuals who reenter society can help limit the challenges these individuals face, which can help reduce recidivism and create desistance.
This organization consists of three separate programs that the clients can be assigned too. The first program is under Workforce Innovative Opportunity Act (WIOA). This act was signed into law on July 22, 2014 (U.S. Department of Justice, n.d.). WIOA is aimed to help those who are looking to obtain employment, education, training, and support (U.S. Department of Justice, n.d.). The goal of WIOA is to, “…strengthen and improve our nation’s public workforce system and help get Americans, including youth and those with significant barriers to employment, into high quality jobs and careers and help employers hire and retain skilled workers” (U.S. Department of Justice, n.d.).
The highlight’s as described by the U.S. Department of Justice is that WIOA requires states to align WIOA programs accurately, promotes transparency when discussing programs that are evidence-based, work with regional and local employers, improve our American Job Center System (assistance to job seekers), improves services to employers and work-based training, high-quality training, help individuals who are unemployed with high-quality service, improving services for those who are disabled, make investments for the youth and vulnerable populations, enhance the job corps program (helps youth with getting great jobs), and having strategic WIOA boards at the state and local level (U.S. Department of Justice, n.d.). It is a federal grant that is allocated to the states in the United States, then the states give it to the
1 Please see the organizations website at https://hopeforprisoners.org/our-story/
workforce board, then they administer the money to government agencies and non-profits within the community. HOPE for Prisoners has qualified for this grant for the last four years.
From the enrollment period of August 2019-January 2021, there was a total of 139 enrollments in WIOA. There was 50 females and 89 men enrolled. They had one individual 18 years of age, 10 individuals who were 19-24 years of age, 125 individuals who were 25-54 years of age and 3 individuals 55 years and older. Overall, 82 individuals were White, 41 individuals were African American, 4 individuals were American Indian/Alaskan Native, one individual was Asian, three individuals were Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander, and 34 individuals were Hispanic. Please see Figure 1, 2, and 3 for visual representations of this population.
Figure 1. HOPE for Prisoners: WIOA – Gender
Figure 2. HOPE for Prisoners: WIOA – Age
Figure 3. HOPE for Prisoners: WIOA – Race
The second program focuses on training, skills, and classes via a Department of Justice’s (DOJ) grant. This grant is named the Second Chance Act Comprehensive Community-Based Adult Re-entry Program, Category 1: Community-Based Adult Re-entry and it is administered by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance. This track/program assists individuals with training but has additional requirements for clients including anger management classes, substance abuse inventory/classes, and Moral Reconation Therapy (MRT). MRT is a call designed to help ex-offenders recognize bad behaviors and to make a change within themselves to become more pro-social as individuals. This program started its enrollment through HOPE for Prisoners in February 2020.
Overall, since February 2020, there has been 72 enrollments in the DOJ program. Please see Figure 4, 5, and 6 for the demographics of this track/program.
Figure 4. HOPE for Prisoners: DOJ – Gender
Figure 5. HOPE for Prisoners: DOJ – Age
Figure 6. HOPE for Prisoners: DOJ – Race
The third program at HOPE for Prisoners is known as the general program. This is for individuals who do not qualify for the above two programs. Ineligibility for the WIOA and DOJ programs is typically due to clients not having the necessary/required documents associated with these programs. These include a birth certificate (or copy of one), or a form of identification, and a social security card. Additionally, clients in the general program may not need the job-skill training, help with employment, housing, etc. These individuals utilize HFP for support during their re-entry experience. This general program is paid for by donations made to the non-profit. Individuals on the General Program can be co-enrolled into training under WIOA but not all individuals have received this resource due to clients not complying, not having required documents, or the client does not want training. There have been 192 individuals enrolled in the General program since August 2019 – January 2021. The demographics regarding age was missing data for four individuals and for race, it was three individuals. Please see Figure 7, 8, and 9 for demographics of this population.
Figure 7. HOPE for Prisoners: General Program – Gender
Figure 8. HOPE for Prisoners: General Program – Age
Figure 9. HOPE for Prisoners: General Program – Race
Overall, the majority of the population at HOPE for Prisoners is male, Caucasian/White, and is in the age groups of 25 – 54 years old, but mainly 25-34 years old. The General program has the most enrollments out of all programs. HOPE for Prisoners has had prior research conducted on its organization regarding an evaluation.
Prior Research of Site Location
In 2016, a mixed-methods evaluation of HFP was concluded (see Troshynski, Kennedy, Sousa, Madensen, & Willis, 2016). With a sample size of 1,186 participants who completed the intake process at HFP during an 18-month period, the evaluation found that there were 522 individuals who completed the job readiness training program. Of those 522, 64% found employment and a quarter of those who found employment found it within 17 days. Of these individuals, there was a low recidivism rate of only 6% with many going back due to technical violations and not an actual re-offense. Analysis of qualitative data found that the 18-month-long mentorship component of HFP was most beneficial to clients re-entering. Further analysis of clients with and without the mentorship program also found that having a mentor was important in preventing recidivism and also helped participants find employment (Troshynski et al, 2016).
This article helps provide insight into the successfulness of this program including connections to crime reduction efforts and lower rates of recidivism. A limitation of this evaluation is that little is known about client’s desistance strategies including whether or not HFP helps in the creation and maintenance of desistance. Due to HFP successes with lowering rates of recidivism, the focus of participant desistance will add to our understanding of whether or not this component is important. Seeing how, and in what ways, HFP’s 18-month program helps participants desist from crime is key.
Current Thesis Project: Research Questions
The purpose of this research is to better understand how clients desist from crime; how they curb recidivism; and how they utilize re-entry programs/services while doing so. In current literature, recidivism has been quantified, especially on any state or national websites (e.g., NDOC, 2019; Sentencing Project, 2020). For example, the majority of research on recidivism has a high focus on statistics rather than analyzing individuals’ personal experiences. This research goes beyond that by taking a humanistic approach and analyzing the self-narratives of the formerly incarcerated. In order to understand experiences of recidivism and desistance, these personal stories and experiential knowledge is of utmost importance. Learning from clients about what programs and services are most useful (and which ones are not), as well as what is most helpful in supporting them in the present and future, furthers our understandings of a “successful” re-entry program.
The main research question for this project are how individuals are participating in a local re-entry organization articulating their own desistance. By using the Making Good Theory by Shadd Maruna, this thesis seeks to understand how individuals utilizing a re-entry program understand their own desistance? For comparative purposes, this thesis incorporates participants with violent and non-violent priors. It is anticipated that desistance should be found amongst all of these individuals but that there should be a variety of ways that desistance is understood for those with violent priors compared to those without (Alpher and Durose, 2018; Day et al., 2017). In asking about understandings of desistance, this thesis will also chart the re-entry services and resources utilized by all participants of the study. Research for this thesis was approved under full institutional review board on November 20, 2020.2
Selection of Participants
This research includes a convenience, non-representative sample of participants. This type of non-probability sampling deals with drawing the sample from part of the population that is of opportunity to the researcher. Participants are available to the student researcher as she currently works at the re-entry organization of HOPE for Prisoners (HFP), in Las Vegas, Nevada. The clients are individuals who have been formerly incarcerated.
To begin, there were three different lists produced of HFP clients: One (1) list included clients that were at 0-5 months in the program; a second list included those clients that were at 6- 11 months in the program; and a third list of clients at 12-18 months of the program. The author separated the three (3) lists into two groups. One included those whose most recent crime was non-violent. Another included those whose most recent crime was violent. Therefore, there were six (6) total lists: one non-violent list and one violent list of clients for each timeframe (0-5 months; 6-11 months; 12-18 months).
These timeframes were chosen as it will aim to provide different answers of desistance for those in different timeframes in the program. Those who have just entered the program might have different self-narrative’s then those who are almost done with the program and this is the same for violent offenders vs. non-violent offenders. The violent crime was defined by the UCR:
“In the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program, violent crime is composed of four offenses: murder and nonnegligent manslaughter, rape, robbery, and aggravated
2 This research was approved by Institutional Review Board on November 20, 2020 under the title, “From ex offenders to hopefuls: Exploring changing narratives and personal stories of desistance” IRB #[1626812-3]
assault. Violent crimes are defined in the UCR Program as those offenses that involve force or threat of force” (FBI, 2016).
The sample consisted of 87 individuals who were chosen as complaint by their Case Managers and were taken off due to being released before five years. In HOPE for Prisoners, when a client is compliant, they are doing the following: 1. Attending the Tuesday night huddles HOPE for Prisoners has every week, unless they are working. 2. Contacting their Case Manager weekly, if unemployed, and monthly if employed. 3. Contacting their mentor at least twice/three times a week. A mentor is someone who is volunteering in the community to help the client reach their goals. 4. If unemployed, they need to be job searching and turning in their job searches weekly to their Case Manager.
Out of those 87 (100%) individuals, 52 (60%) individuals were willing to participate in the research project. Out of those 87 individuals, 7 (8%) individuals did state they did not want to participate, and 34 individuals did not answer or were non-respondents. All 87 individuals were recruited for the project via phone and email using a script (see Appendix C). The individuals were then separated based on when they were in the program (the three timeframes, mentioned above) and whether or not their most recent crime was violent vs. non-violent (again, as mentioned above). Then, from these six lists created, participants were randomly selected – one (1) individual from each list. Therefore, for this research, six (6) participants were interviewed.
The randomly six selected individuals were three females and three males. Within regards to the program assigned to each client is two from each program within HOPE for Prisoners; two in WIOA, two in DOJ, and two in the General Program. Interviewee ID #32 was enrolled in the WIOA program, was exiting HOPE for Prisoners and committed a violent crime.
Interviewee ID #2 was enrolled in the General Program, was exiting HOPE for Prisoners and did not commit a violent crime. Interviewee ID #14 was enrolled in the DOJ program, was in the middle of their time in HOPE for Prisoners and had the exclusion of negligent manslaughter. Interviewee ID #16 was enrolled in the General Program, was in the middle of their time in HOPE for Prisoners and did not commit a violent crime. Interviewee ID #45 was enrolled in the WIOA program, was just enrolled in HOPE for Prisoners, and committed a violent crime. Interviewee ID #52 was enrolled in the DOJ program, was just enrolled in HOPE for Prisoners, and did not commit a violent crime.
There were exclusions made. The first was based on prior conviction/prior crime: clients previously charged with negligent manslaughter were not included in the sample because this crime did not fit the UCR definition of violent crime. Out of the total client lists, there was only one interviewee who had negligent manslaughter as a prior and was placed as a violent offender due to the limitation of how small the sample was. The second exclusion included any clients that the author managed as a case manager. In order to mitigate any conflict of interest, the author’s clients were not recruited/enrolled in this research.
These 6 individuals were then called and told that they were randomly selected to participate in a research study. The study was briefly explained and the option of scheduling an interview time was provided. Before each interview, participants were sent the summary of the project, consent form (see Appendix D), and notes about privacy (i.e., data was deidentified and not connected to them, their file, or their case manager). Before each interview, consent was requested. They consented verbally over a recorded call to being interviewed and to being recorded for the project.
All participants were asked the questionnaire of demographics (see Appendix A) prior to their main interview (see Appendix B). This information is useful in comparting the participants of this study to the overall clientele profiles at HFP.
Frameworks, Interviews, and Measuring Desistance
As the primary framework, this study will utilize the “Making Good Theory” by Shadd Maruna. throughout the book Making Good (2001), the author purposes a theory associated with life-course criminology (an emphasis on factors occurring in each phase of an individual’s life and how these play a role in the participation of criminal behavior). This framework is useful in explaining how people who have multiple criminal records turn their lives around and desist from committing future crime (Maruna, 2001).
Interviews with participants began with the general questionnaire. Questions herein included information about demographics, past incarceration, date of release, and whether or not they had a history of being arrested as a juvenile. Questions also included information about past and current employment, housing, education, family support, children, and if they need any immediate services or resources. The questionnaire was used to compare and contrast analysis of the qualitative interview questions. Interview questions began with a conversation about how the participant feels about the re-entry organization including what services and resources have been most and/or least helpful. Questions also included whether or not staff at the local re-entry organization have been helpful, and in what ways/capacity.
Then, two questions asked about their true-self; their biggest dream(s) and what they think about most often. These two questions get the individual to think about who they truly, what they think about most consistently, and what goals and/or aspirations are important to them.
Due to true-self being a more abstract construct, these questions are helpful in having participants assess their feelings of autonomy (see Schlegal & Hicks, 2011). Based on what the participants define as “the characteristics, roles or attributes that define who are in your daily life – even if those characteristics are different than who you really are’’ (Schlegal & Hicks, 2011, p. 991), these questions also help us understand who participants believe they “really are”.
The next questions are about their optimism for the future and include prompts about how they think their life will be next year including whether or not they believe that they will achieve their goals/aspirations. This gives the researcher a look into why they believe they are going to achieve their goals including an understanding of how they believe their life will look in a year. Specifically, a focus on whether or not these responses are optimistic or pessimistic is important.3 David Hecht (2013) produced a research article in the Experimental Neurobiology Journal by discussing optimism and pessimism. He states that optimism and pessimism is regarding one expecting a positive or negative future. He states how, “an optimistic person sees good things everywhere, is generally confident and hopeful of what the future holds… full of potential opportunities” (Hecht, 2013, p. 173). He states how “the pessimist, on the other hand, observes mainly the negative aspects of everything around… all potential dangers and pitfalls on the way, little hope for future” (Hecht, 2013, p.173). This provides ways to be able to analyze these definitions with the answers received by the interviewees. The last questions were about assessing their sense of giving back to community, their thoughts about mentorships, and whether or not they believe that they can give back to the community.
3 Optimism is defined as, “hopefulness and confidence about the future or the successful outcome of something” (Oxford Dictonary, n.d.). Pessimism is defined as, “a tendency to see the worst aspect of things or believe that the worst will happen; a lack of hope or confidence in the future” (Oxford Dictonary, n.d.).
Based on these interview questions; this research includes three narrative analyses for desistance. The first analysis focuses on responses to the true self questions, which is connected to the establishment of core beliefs. The second measurement includes an analysis of optimistic perception of personal control over one’s destiny. The optimistic perspective is important when looking at the self-narrative of someone who was formerly incarcerated as this is connected to the successful result of desisting from crime. The final analysis describes participants desires to be productive and give something back to society, particularly whether or not they feel like they are in a position to give back to the next generation. This is important when looking at one’s self narrative to see if they want to change their life as well as whether or not they want to help others to change. There is also the aspect of persistence, which is measured in one’s self-narrative by analyzing negative self-talk and pessimistic attitudes about current and future experiences. Examples of this type of narration is feeling doomed to deviance; feeling like they will not succeed in life; feeling like they are victims of forces beyond their control (Maruna, 2001).
Analyzed together, answers to these interview questions are helpful in answering the research questions of the study: namely, how clients of a local re-entry organization understand desistance. Additionally, answers to the questionnaire will be utilized to compared and contrast similar thematic answers to interview script questions.
The student researcher informed the individual that their personal information will remain confidential and that if they want to stop at any time during the interview, they will be allowed to say stop. The student researcher explained to the individual what the research will be used for (her master’s thesis) and the purpose behind the interview (collecting data for her master’s thesis). The student researcher informed the individual that if they ever have any questions, they can ask to clarify. Transcription of the data and analyzation will be discussed in the next subsection.
Creation of Transcripts and Analysis of Qualitative Data
Interviews were all conducted over the phone and were recorded using an application named TapeaCall. These calls were then transcribed on the application and put into a Word document. Qualitative data was then analyzed by, first, reading through the transcripts for general answers to the main research question. Specifically, anytime a conversation of desistance occurred, the researcher made a note of this including the context surrounding this conversation. Basically, this is an open-coded thematic analysis of transcripts. Themes/patterns were then identified in each and noted. Deductive coding occurred by using the Making Good Theory by Maruna and other themes besides what was mentioned in this theory arose. A narrative analysis and interpretation of data occurred next to then describe general findings and answers to the research question.
Strengths and Limitations of the Project
The process of re-entry is important to understand as re-entry organizations, by the services they provide, help lower rates of recidivism. These re-entry organizations assist with providing second chances to those who have been formerly incarcerated; they also help to improve public safety, lower costs associated with corrections, and assist previously incarcerated individuals successfully transition back home to their families and communities.
This research can be considered a cross-sectional design because the data was collected at one time (Schutt, 2019). There are some strengths and limitations of the current project. The population was easily available to the researcher as she currently works at HOPE for Prisoners.
First, the author conducted a quick over-the-phone survey (see Appendix A). This survey is helpful in that it works best for this research project since it is an exploratory design seeking to gain understanding about the self-narratives of former offenders who are involved in a re-entry organization. It provides flexibility to those being interviewed and helps with the interviewee’s being able to answer the questions with the assistance of the interviewer (Schutt, 2019). Survey’s/interviews are cost-effective and provide a broad range of data collected. This survey has limitations in generalizability, and it is time consuming for the researcher. External validity regarding this sampling design is difficult since the one chosen is not generalizable (Schutt, 2019).
The author conducted over-the-phone interviews with 6 participants. The researcher conducted interviews via phone or Zoom. The strengths of the research are that this project has provided an in-depth narrative perspective on individuals in the HOPE for Prisoners program by using the Making Good Theory by Shadd Maruna as a backbone to the project to look at desistance. This theory created analyzable themes for the answers received. Maruna’s Making Good Theory created a framework that gave a focus on self-narrative’s, which is important when focusing on offenders.
This mixed-method research design was chosen as it helps with versatility and efficacy (Schutt, 2019). Yet, doing this type of design can also provide challenges. Research suggests that sometimes people can tell stories that are not necessarily true; Also, conducting interviews and analyzing qualitative data can be labor-intensive (Adler, Dunlop, Fivush, Lilgendahl, Lodi Smith, McAdams, Mclean, Pasupathi, & Syed, 2017).
Limitations of the research include sample selection. There were exclusions (see conversation above) and the sample was not weighted due to the size. There were six sub-groups within the sample and the researcher only had two individuals to choose from. Further, certain data regarding the clients at HOPE for Prisoners was in transition of being placed into a data system. This meant that some data was not readily available and/or missing. This was a limitation as there was data that could have been included – like past drug use and abuse and level of highest education attained. Importantly, and since this thesis incorporates perspectives from a life-course theory, there is a major limitation in the timing of the interviews. It is difficult to fully understand participants understandings of desistance because these interviews were only done once, at one point in time. The participant’s in this project could lie to the questions asked and they might not be “real” about their experiences since they will be interviewed at one point in time.
Even with these limitations, based on the findings from this study, this project is helpful in determining whether or not, and at what point in an 18-month re-entry program, desistance is occurring. By analyzing the self-narratives of a variety of clients in different stages of the program, this research helps provide insight on how a local re-entry organization, HOPE for Prisoners, influences personal reform strategies, helps influence their self-narratives, and provides them with the services and resources they need to successfully desist from crime. Lastly, findings from this research are beneficial as it will hopefully assist other re-entry organizations. The answers received from these interviews will be described next, to introduce the findings of this project.
This chapter discusses the findings from the research conducted. General observations about the research will be discussed. Observations about demographic information, findings regarding the theory, explanations about the clients at HOPE for Prisoners, and other results related to the project. It will answer how individuals enrolled in HOPE for Prisoners are articulating their own desistance. Based on the Making Good Theory by Maruna, analysis of qualitative data will also discuss whether or not participants are exhibiting desistance at the point in time the interview was conducted.
Findings from Questionnaire/Survey
To begin, the following surmises participants answers to the in-take/questionnaire. Overall, the ages of these six individuals ranged from 25 to 54. The self-identified race of the individuals included two Caucasians (2/6 or 33%), two African Americans (2/6 or 33%), one Hispanic (1/6 or 17%), and one Native American (1/6 or 17%). Five of the individuals (5/6 or 83%) noted that their first arrest was at a young age, less than 20 years old (<20). The overall population of the race of HOPE for Prisoners is Caucasian, then African American, Hispanic, then other/mixed. The sample is similarly to the HOPE for Prisoners population. The six individuals chosen for this study was a good representation of the HOPE for Prisoners clients overall, since there is a range with gender and race.
For all six participants, the range of total incarceration time is between one year to twenty years (1 – 20 years). This is an accurate representation of the HOPE for Prisoners population as the range of individuals in the program have either been in jail only for a couple month to 20 plus years in prison. All individuals were released from jail and/or prison within the last five years and all were currently enrolled as clients in the HOPE for Prisoners re-entry program. Two individuals were not working at the time of the interview and all individuals had housing ranging from sober living, to living with family, or having their own house/apartment. Only one (1) individual did not have a G.E.D. or High School Diploma; this same individual also did not have family support. During the interviews, four (4/6 or 67%) mentioned that they did have children. The participants do represent the general average HOPE for Prisoners clients.
Table 2. Interviewee’s Demographics
|Violent or Non
|32||28||Female||White/Caucasian||WIOA||Violent||12 – 18
|2||38||Male||White/Caucasian||General||Nin-Violent||12 – 18
|14||38||Female||Hispanic||DOJ||Violent (Exclusion)||6 – 11
|General||Non-Violent||6 – 11
|WIOA||Violent||0 – 5 Months|
|DOJ||Non-Violent||0 – 5 Months|
The last part of the questionnaire discussed general service needs and immediate needs at the time of the interview. Participants who just entered HOPE for Prisoners, not dependent on what program they were assigned, needed a lot of services and had numerous immediate needs as well. These needs ranged from job training, drug counseling, counseling for an individual’s family, letters from the program for an individual to be able to get probation on a current case, adapting back into society, need for technology/computer, employment, and communication skills. These needs were varied mainly because of the timeframe associated with participating in the program. Specifically, individuals who just recently started the HFP program listed more service requirements and immediate needs than those who were at the 3- 6- 9- and 12- month marker of the program.
Individuals who were in the middle of the program did need some resources but not as many as those who just entered the program. For example, for these two participants in the middle of the HFP program, they listed a need for housing, dental care, employment, and help with finding a tutor for their children. The last two individuals who were about to exit the program did have service needs as well, especially for an individual who was enrolled in the General Program. The one individual enrolled in this program mentioned that they needed financial help, housing, employment, and help with a vehicle title. The other individual only had one need, which was support by HOPE for Prisoners to be able to get off probation. This shows the range of needs, immediate and general, as well as varied responses to short- and long-term goals. Prior research stated earlier mentions how an increased awareness of offence-related needs, attitudes, and behaviors of those who worked at the program is useful in desistance (Day et al., 2017). The focus on goals and offence related needs is important for a program to help with desistance of their participants.
Interviews: HOPE for Prisoners
The beginning of the interview introduced questions about HOPE for Prisoners. These questions (see Appendix B) discussed which HFP resources have been helpful or not helpful. Questions also asked them to reflect on where they were before they started the HFP program compared to where they are now/currently. Keep in mind when discussing the answers to these questions, which department they are assigned too. All individuals did state they have received resources from HOPE for Prisoners; Yet, keeping in mind that participants of the study were assigned to different programs at HFP, 4/6 (66%) of the participants stated that mentorship and employment was their most helpful resource. All individuals in the HOPE for Prisoners program get assigned a mentor and have the availability to employment, if compliant.
Additionally, three (3/6 or 50%) individuals did state they got help with school and drug/mental health counseling. Two (2/6 or 33%) individuals mentioned that the initial week long enrollment workshop associated with HOPE for Prisoners provided them with numerous helpful resources. HOPE for Prisoners clients is offered counseling and help with obtaining their G.E.D. throughout all program’s within HFP. Vocational Training is only provided by the Department of Justice and WIOA grants through HOPE for Prisoners. Interviewees also mentioned a range of other important resources including bus passes to help with transportation, holiday/Christmas celebrations that included family members, knowledgeable case managers, and what they learned from moral recognition therapy (see Table 3 for resources mentioned by participants).
Table 3. HOPE for Prisoners – Interviewee’s Resources; Useful/Least Useful
|Interviewee ID#||Time in
|Gender||Resources Provided||Most Useful||Least Useful|
|32||12-18 months||Female||School/Training being paid for,
Letter for State
Mentorship, and Drug/Alcohol
|Training being Paid||“All is Useful”|
|2||12-18 months||Male||Self-Development during the
with employment, providing
Christmas to his family twice, and Transportation/Bus passes
|“…can not think of any”|
employment, and School
|The belonging of family and the
Tuesday Night Huddles, Case
|“…job for me.
actually am a
mom and cannot afford to get a
Because me and he really did not hit it off…”
|45||0-5 months||Male||Case Manager,
G.E.D., Workshop, and
Tuesday Night Huddles
|“…the job thing right now. It is really helpful for me right now but I have school,
|32||0-5 months||Male||Mentorship, Moral Reconation
Counseling, and Support
Counseling, and Moral
|“…there has not been any…”|
When participants were asked about which resource(s) assisted them the most, answered varied and ranged from “getting help paying for school”, the initial/enrollment week-long “workshop”, “Tuesday night huddles”, as well as “speakers at the huddles”. Others mentioned that an overall “sense of belonging” was an important resource as well as their “current employment”. When analyzing these answers, the participants in the HOPE for Prisoners program all have a variety of resources they felt assisted them the most and this did not relate back to when they were in the program or if they committed a violent/non-violent crime. This shows how all the participants have taken away a certain resource provided by HOPE for Prisoners that has helped them personally with no relationship to their past-crime or when they are in the program.
When discussing what resources were the least impactful, half the participants (3/6) could not think of any, this included two individuals who were close to completing the 18-month HFP program and were about to graduate/exit the program. Two participants did state that their schedules made it challenging for the program – specifically, their case workers – to help find them a job. For example, one participant, a female who mentioned that she needs a job that will work around her care-taking/mother schedule. The other participant stated it was due to his goal of wanting to go to school but needing to find work to fit his schedule. One participant said that the mentorship component of the HFP program was the lease impactful/necessary. Employment for ex-offenders could resort back to the individual’s gender. As shown, mothers who have children and also, if individuals would like to go to school as this provides additional challenges to finding employment. These answers can relate back to the organization and how they are helping individuals find employment to fit around their schedules. This could provide insight to the organization on needing to focus on career planning for the individuals. Both of the individuals were enrolled in grants with HOPE for Prisoners.
All participants stated positive??descriptions/experiences when discussing their case manager. They described their case managers as being supportive, insightful, engaging, and understanding. Several also mentioned that their case manager “helped them not give up”, “helped them overcome challenges”, and that they are good at paying attention to the individual’s needs. The interviewees did not mention any negative comments or critiques about their case managers. Prior research has stated that when staff is encouraging the participants to focus on the positive aspects of themselves, this helps them find to help with the creation of a positive re-entry narrative. Specifically, positive self-identification can be found amongst ex offenders when they are building their new identity (Day et al., 2017).
When discussing where they were before enrolling in the HOPE for Prisoners re-entry program, several mentioned that they had “terrible relationships” and “no relationship with God.” Others said that they had higher levels of stress, felt discouraged and had “no sense of direction.” One also mentioned that they had “no assistance to help with re-entry.” Overall, then, half of the participants stated that they “felt lost.” All individuals who stated they felt lost before HOPE for Prisoners committed non-violent crimes. The ones who committed violent crimes stated they lost their relationship with God, felt discouraged, and also had no re-entry assistance.
Each participant did state that HOPE for Prisoners has changed them in multiple ways. These narratives came out when participants were asked to talk about where they currently were at in their lives. For example, Interviewee ID#32, who has almost completed the program, stated that, “Uh, I think just the way I look at myself, the way I carry myself, um Jon Ponder is on my mind every day. I kind of like, what would Jesus do? But I also think, what would Jon Ponder do? I try and not make decisions that if I had to tell him about, I would be
embarrassed too. The toolbox that I gained changed my whole life and my whole perspective on everything.”
For this participant close to exiting the program, their relationship with the founder, Jon Ponder, as well as the insights gained from the program in its entirety has been beneficial.
This participant later acknowledged that she is currently,
“…working in recovery now and she is now a high-risk Case Manager for a lot of clients that are on Parole, which is cool because I have a lot of experience…I am now helping people because of the hope, Hope gave me.”
She states here how HOPE for Prisoners has helped her find her passion in wanting to help others and give hope to others the way the organization did for her. She is now finding confidence in her own pursuit of her passions, which was even stated below by another interviewee. This is a road to prosocial identity by the participant transforming their identity through their own words and narratives (Bachman et al., 2015).
Interviewee #16, an individual who is in the middle of their program period with HOPE for Prisoners stated that their level of “confidence” is what changed the most. When asked to comment on where they are currently at in life, this individual said, “… I am in school and I am majoring in Social Work. I am employed full time and I am a full-time mother. I am more spiritually connected than I was before. I started to go back to church…”
Similar to the other participants, this interviewee aligns with the theme of heightened confidence; being able to pursue goals they have set for themselves. This organization has provided a driving force in their passions. These individuals are implementing productive behaviors by going to school and pursuing positive careers (Maruna, 2001).
The last interviewee #52, who just entered the program, stated that being involved with HOPE for Prisoners meant that their
“…thought process has changed the most. I am really talking to a lot of different people in getting some of my friends to actually come because, uh, yeah, because of this, the change that I see in myself…. The way I see things now, as far as you know, my community, what happens around me. How can I affect change? You know things of that nature when I did not really care before because I just worried about myself.”
The participant discusses moving towards positive change in not just himself but what he can do for the community. He states he is no longer just worrying about himself but now is thinking of ways to now help others, which is also a theme below. Giving back to the community is a theme discussed in the Making Good Theory by Maruna, as showing desistance (2001).
In this same interview, the participant noted that, “… I am moving in the right direction. I see positivity every day. I am learning something new about me and about life that causes me to want to share with someone else…” This participant goes on by discussing the positivity they see in themselves every day and wanting to share that positivity with someone else, which relates to his first prompt. This participant has something good coming out from being a criminal and what he has learned, this is descriptions of the redemption script as described by Maruna (2001).
Overall, as told by the participants themselves, HOPE for Prisoners has helped them with a number of resources and case management. Not dependent on when they are in the program, the individuals show themes of having confidence for their future and to pursue their passions. The interviewees also showed a theme of positivity towards change and wanting to help others; whether it be friends or other justice involved individuals. Prior research has stated that when staff is encouraging their participants to focus on the positive aspects of themselves, they found this to help with the creation of a positive re-entry narrative. Specifically, positive self identification was found to help ex-offender’s build a new identity, embrace a new community with positive peers, and work productively within the community (Day et al., 2017). The answers to the first questions in the interview regarding HOPE for Prisoners showed themes of optimism and discussing their true-self by stating their confidence.
Interviews Focusing on Making Good
The organization of my results around the narrative mechanisms necessary for desistance as highlighted by the Making Good Theory by Maruna includes the redemption script vs. condemnation script. Again, this states that there are three measurements for desistance regarding ex-offender’s self-narratives. These measurements include the focus of true self, being optimistic, and wanting to give something back to society. There is also the aspect of persistence, which is measured in one’s self-narrative by the number of negative descriptions and self-talk they exhibit (Maruna, 2001). The following analysis of narrative data are organized around these three measurements.
Two interview questions were utilized to understand more about participants’ understanding of their “true self” as that concept is connected to their pasts, their prior involvements with delinquency and crime, and their hopes for the future. Similar to Maruna’s research, narratives with these participants found a distinction between how they understood themselves when they committed crime(s) compared to their “true selves” (e.g., Maruna, 2001; Sundt, 2010). All participants acknowledged that they always knew deep down that they were always a good person.
For example, throughout interviews, participants always kept a positive attitude which involved identifying positive aspects of themselves that they are able to use to distinguish unique qualities about themselves compared to another (ex)offender (e.g., Maruna, 2001; Sundt, 2010). For example, one participant noted, “…they gifted me, you know, the ability to just know that I can believe in myself, and that I can do it…”. Similarly, another interviewee said, “I see myself exceeding now, and that is a great feeling I have right now” These articulations were commonplace for all six participants and suggest that they have positive attitudes about their lives. All participants showed autonomy in their answers. The first interview questions get into the focus on true-self and clients biggest dreams they have for themselves. Maruna states when participants discuss how their successes make them feel freer, this shows the redemption script (2001).
When questions were asked about the interviewees biggest dreams including what they think about most often, there was a distinction based on the time in the HFP program. For example, individuals who just entered the program focused more on immediate goals that they can obtain from HOPE for Prisoners. These included goals associated with employment, going (back) to school, giving back to the community and/or next generation, planning to own their own home, successfully adapting back to society, opening their own business, and other aspirations. Participants that were further along in the HFP program articulated goals associated with finding a place to live, focusing on their family and a future together, and wanting to take a vacation with family (i.e., examples included going to the beach and relaxing). For example, one (Interviewee ID#2) mentioned, “…going to the beach… relax. No stress. That is what used to get me in trouble was the… stress and depression… I just want my kids to have a good life.” Another participant mentioned that specific educational goals associated with professional degrees was what was most important. This included wanting to go to nursing school to become a nurse practitioner in the future. Ex-offenders who are developing long-range plans and working on executing them, this shows their desire to change their re-offending behavior (Mizel et al., 2018).
Comparing the participants time in the program with their answers regarding their biggest dreams/goals, there was a theme in the time they were in the HOPE for Prisoners program. As stated above, the interviewees did have more minute goals when they first entered the program vs. those who were exiting the program. The individuals who were in the middle of completing the program also had goals based on wanting to help others, i.e., being a life coach for other and wanting to be like Oprah to get organizations to come together to help others. This is important when discussing desistance as this helps with identifying, if all individuals are staying positive in their future aspirations, the smaller goals of those finishing the program have been met. The participants stating larger goals towards the end of the program shows that the organization has assisted them with achieving their smaller goals, this lowers desistance as findings from prior research suggest that an increased awareness of offence-related needs, attitudes, and behaviors for re-entry organizations is important when enhancing desistance (Day et al., 2017). Discussing what they are thinking about also introduces a perspective of identifying their true-self.
Answers to the question associated with daily thought, i.e., what the participant thinks about most often – turned in to conversations about self-help and self-care routines. For example, participants stated that noticing their mental health was what kept them mentally preoccupied. Importantly, participants discussed how they managed their goals and aspirations in light of their impacts on family and friends. For example, when asked what is on their mind these days, Interviewee ID#45 stated,
“… the job that I will have. And, you know, uh, just basically the fun stuff I want to do, you know, that I have never done before this prison stuff getting in the way. So, I mean, there is a lot I have on my mind that I want to do. And now, it is just one step at a time, so I just do not want to overwhelm myself.”
Other individuals stated the importance of family and having a future with them was a main goal while some mentioned how they were focusing on getting past the current (criminal) case(s) they were fighting and keep on/continue the path with HOPE for Prisoners. Individuals who report themselves of having no plans for future involvement in criminal behavior lead to desistance (Maruna, 2004).
Overall, all participants articulated a lot of good positive goals and aspirations for themselves. This means that they do see something good and/or redeeming that could come forth from their past criminal behavior. Whether or not they articulated these future hopes as “dreams” or as “goals”, all conversations were positive. In light of prior research, these findings suggest that all participants found value in their lives, saw a positive outcome, and were working towards that outcome in positive pro-social ways. What they thought about most often did not equate to a “doomed” future lifestyle similar to the one they used to have; instead, they spoke about positive purpose(s) that they want to achieve. Thus, there is a focus on gaining strength.
Optimists vs. Pessimists
There were two questions asked that helped assess the individual’s level of optimism. These questions asked participants about where they think they will be next year and their thoughts on what chances they have of achieving their goals and why. All individuals in the interview expressed a positive future for themselves. Participants who were about to exit the program had similar answers stating how they were very excited for next year and this is due to the fact of making better money, having better housing, and helping others.
Two participants in the middle of the program were showing signs of optimism as well. Even with an unstable present, these participants expressed positivity about their future. Interviewee ID#14 stated,
“… I do not feel like I have stability, but I am basically working my way towards stability. Um, at least in a work environment and in a career environment. So stable, more stable when it comes to a career.”
While Interviewee ID#16 said,
“…it will be 10x better. I will be living in a different place and I have had finished my first and second semester of college. Still employed with the same employer… I do not see myself moving up really in the company, but possibly a raise but not a position level change…but most definitely a raise in my salary at least and um, that’s it.”
The above quotes from the participants are affirmations of how they know their future will be by highlighting what the reality is but knowing where they can be if they stay on this path of positivity. Prior research on optimism has stated that individuals who exhibit it are generally confident and hopeful of what the future holds (Hecht, 2013). A positive future is a theme exhibited throughout.
The two individuals who just entered the program also stated that they see hope in their future. Interviewee #45 said, “…the vivid vision. I see myself being more in tune with whatever I have to deal with, and I see myself as being more prepared and still wanting more with the program.” The vivid vision is a homework activity given to the clients in the workshop to think about where their live will be a year from now. The last Interviewee ID#52 stated, “… I plan to be well on my way to being a chef.” As described, all these answers are very positive and optimistic, even when their current situation is challenging with being recently released from a facility. These participants also exhibit their futures as being beneficial and are hopeful. They exhibit “knifing off” from their old behaviors by discussing new roles in their future; pro-social roles (Maruna & Roy, 2007).
All individuals as well, stated they have an amazing chance of completing their life goals. The words they described were: “Super achievable”, “A great chance”, “All the chances to meet life goals.”, an “100% chance”. The reasons they explained was the effort they need to put in to make their life goals achievable and the support from others to help them complete their life goals. They all remained positive and optimistic throughout all answers.
Giving Back to the Community
Wanting to give back is shown in gratitude and wanting to be on a higher moral compass Maruna and colleagues connect this to making good and giving back to others including the society and community (e.g., Maruna, 2001; Sundt, 2010). The last two questions of the interview stated if they would become a mentor in the HOPE for Prisoners program once, they complete the program and if they have ideas about how their experiences can benefit HOPE for Prisoners, the community, the society, and in general.
Analyzing the answers from the participants in this study, all wanted to become mentors when they are done with the program. They used descriptive words like, “Absolutely. My mentor has done a lot”, “Yes, I would love too. Everybody has a story to tell”, “Absolutely… help those who are hopeless”, “Yes, they are in the same situation”, and “Yes, tools to give back to someone else”. They all expressed in wanting to mentor after successfully completing the 18- month HOPE for Prisoners program.
When asked about how their experiences can benefit HOPE for Prisoners, the community, and society, they stated a range of positive answers. Interviewee ID#32 stated,
“… I think I know how important testimonies are and I am constantly drilling into people’s heads that if I could do it, anybody can, which I think is true for a lot of drug addicts. I definitely think sharing my story and I am always, wrote my testimony and sent it to Jon. I scream Hope from the rooftops. I want everyone to know about HOPE for Prisoners.”
Similarly, another participant mentioned their desire to give back to HOPE and the community,
“Yeah, I would like to one day hopefully work for HOPE for Prisoners. I would like to go inside the jails and talk to the people inside there because I always have seen myself in that light and maybe this is the first step of getting there.”
The individuals in this program feel a need to give back to HOPE for Prisoners, specifically. As stated, they do want to give back to the organization, individuals involved with the organization, and the individuals involved by going in jails/prisons in our community to give them hope. Maruna states how wanting to give back to the community is a theme in the redemption script and this is a sign of desistance (2001).
Participants talked about giving back to everyone, generally speaking. Their understanding of themselves were articulated as a reflection of society and vice versa. Another answer to this question completed by Interviewee ID#14 stated,
“Absolutely. Um, every single day being a better version of myself and not only by words, but by actions. The only way I will be able to impact anyone in any kind of area is by basically being a leader and serving in a leadership role or a leader to myself, right? So, basically if I start a task, I am going to finish it …”
As shown above, all these individuals do want to give back to HOPE for Prisoners, the community with their stories, and even society by wanting to go inside the jails to talk to those individuals. They were asked if they had anything else to add and the individuals wanted to highlight the impact the 40-hour workshop makes, how HOPE for Prisoners is benefiting people and getting their word around with Jon Ponder being on the news, Jon Ponders story and how it gave this individual confidence to believe in himself to also, give back to others, and also stating the importance of possibly working with juveniles in HOPE for Prisoners would be beneficial.
These findings provide amazing answers to those within a re-entry organization that helps with reducing recidivism, it is in the stories told by those participating in this program.
This research project included the use of a questionnaire survey and interview script. Answers to the questionnaire are utilized to compare and contrast similar thematic answers to interview script questions. Overall, though, the goal of this research project was to understand more about how clients of a local re-entry organization understand desistance. Additionally, questions sought to expand upon the connections between clients’ experiences with re-entry services and resources, at different times of an 18-month re-entry program and see how these experiences might impact desistance.
This Discussion chapter will summarize the services and resources provided by HFP as well as the different tracts that clients might have while participating in this program. Highlighted are the positive self-narratives of the participants and how it reflects the Making Good Theory by Maruna (2001), especially wanting to give back to HOPE for Prisoners, the community, and society. Connections to desistance that arose in this project and the limitations.
Same Resources, Different Tracks
HOPE for Prisoners helps provide services and resources for those re-entering society from incarcerated settings. Prior research has stated how prison programs that help offenders not re-offend assist individuals with resource opportunities; specifically, employment post-release and this can lead to desistance for the ex-offenders (Day et al., 2017). Via these resources and services, information learned also sets up ex-convicts with a language to help change their self narratives (Bachman et al., 2015). For example, HFP introduces them to new concepts and strategies for everyday living; the learning that occurs through various resources at HFP is invaluable. As described in prior research, the importance of de-labeling and believing the client’s abilities helps former offenders’ success in their re-entry (Maruna et al., 2006). Importantly, different programs and/or tracks exist within the HFP organization. These programs within HOPE for Prisoners demonstrate differences in the types of resources/services needed based on what the individual client is experiencing. This, in turn, can affect their re-entry experience and desistance from crime (Alpher and Durose, 2018).
The tracks in the HOPE for Prisoners program are described prior and include the Workforce Innovative Opportunity Act (WIOA) grant which helps those who are looking to obtain employment, education, training, and support (U.S. Department of Justice, n.d.). The clients enrolled in this grant are individuals who are actively seeking job training for a certain employment field. The next track is the Department of Justice (DOJ) grant and the purpose of this grant is also aimed to assist individuals with training but adds additional programming (i.e., Moral Reconation Therapy; anger management classes; substance abuse classes). The last track is the general track, and this is for individuals who do not qualify for the other grants/programs due to some sort of ineligibility and/or them not wanting/needing job training. Clients in the general track might already have a place to live and a job to work; they may just want organizational and community support throughout their re-entry process.
Focusing on the answers of the participants regarding what tracks they are on provide insight into the resources they all share and/or are indifferent. Those who were under the WIOA track did state that having their training paid for employment was a resource that was provided for them. Participants who were in the General track has similarities in their resources by stating they received employment. Under the DOJ track, there were similarities in the resources they received by the stating mental health/substance abuse counseling and mentorship. Five out of six of the participant’s did state employment for a resource received. The similarities among the grants highlight what the grants are aimed to do by rather it be, employment, tools in the workshop, and drug/mental health counseling. Prior research does state how employment is the number one barrier faced by this population and this helps reduce recidivism when ex-offenders receive assistance on employment (Estrad, 2018; Raphael, 2016).
Regardless of the track/program, HFP provides clients with the necessary resources and services needed to successfully re-enter society post incarceration. Resources and services helps minimize the barriers associated with re-entry, which lowers recidivism (Raphael, 2016).Through their programming (i.e., resources and services), HFP also sets a standard of providing ex-offenders with ways to see a “light at the end of a long tunnel.” Findings summarized throughout the previous chapter do provide insight and answers on how re-entry organizations can change self-narratives of offenders to show that desistance is current and/or likely in their future.
Understanding Desistance: Positive Self-Narratives
Findings from interviews with participants were useful in answering the question about how clients understand their re-entry experience and connections to desistance. Utilizing concepts from Maruna’s (2001) research, participants of this study were also reflective of the difference between who they were and their “true-self”. They were able to talk about how their experiences, over the course of their re-entry program, helped encourage them to be more positive and hopeful about their future. For example, and not dependent on where they were in the 18-moth program, participants did mention how they had several immediate and long-term goals for themselves. Even when asked about what they think most often, participants discussed their visions for themselves and all of these visions were positive. Positive self-identity of former offenders has been shown in research that they are building a new identity towards a redemptive script (e.g., Day et al., 2017; Maruna 2001).
For example, all individuals interviewed were optimistic for their future. They also provided very specific examples of what they were currently doing to reach their future goals and how they were determined to do so. Examples of strength and resiliency were offered along with stories of renewal, as well as change. Additionally, participants of this study demonstrated a sense of direction and willpower to successfully obtain the future they had in mind. When talking about their “vivid visions”, clients are able to think about how they want their future to look a year from now and this self-reflection starts them on the path of aiming towards that vision. They all believe they have a great chance in achieving their goals and they all remained positive in their answers throughout this study. With the focus on goals and needs of the clients in this program, this has shown to help with desistance of these clients (Day et al., 2017). Maruna stated that clients who experience a sense of self-control and have are having better control over their future exhibit desistance (2001).
Even if the participant was a violent or non-violent ex-offender, all narratives remained positive. Having half of the participants with a non-violent background and another half with a violent background meant for some potential comparisons. Yet, when it came to interview script questions, there were no differences between those participants with or without a violent background. Changing a self-narrative of an ex-offender is challenging but re-entry organizations can be influential when assisting former felons to recognize their potential for growth in their lives and to provide them with ways to be pro-social; to set positive goals.
Giving Back: Beyond the Positive Self-Narrative
Lessons learned throughout this re-entry program also instilled within them a purpose of giving back to others. Questions derived from Maruna’s research (2001) on giving back to society was incorporated throughout this research project. Findings are similar in that all participants articulate a desire to give back in some capacity. For some, they are eager to prioritize giving back to the local re-entry program and become a mentor or staff member. They all remained positive and showed their enthusiasm for wanting to give back to the organization that has helped them throughout their re-entry journey thus far. For others, they talked about giving back to the local community via making sure that younger generations learn from their prior experiences. Importantly, though, all participants discussed giving back to the organization, to community, and to society more broadly. This could be because HOPE for Prisoners highlights mentorship throughout their program and encourages participation from clients post 18-month graduation. This way, they are able to “give back” to someone who is just entering the program – just like they did at one point in their lives.
Maruna in the Making Good Theory states how one theme in the self-narratives of former felons was wanting to give back to the community (2001). Maruna states how individuals who had a bad criminal past, this has to happen in order to achieve something for a larger good and this is described by a lifetime of committing crime being put to a good use by giving back (Maruna, 2001). Ex-offenders find a moral high ground by having a calling to help others instead of running from their past.
Connections to Desistance
The main goal of a re-entry organization is to lower recidivism in their community and, by doing this, individuals need to desist (Lebel et al., 2014). This study demonstrates a connection between the services and resources provided by a local re-entry organization and changing ex-offenders’ self-narratives to include thoughts about how they understand desisting from crime. For example, findings from interviews with these clients notes that the resources provided are influential as is the atmosphere and culture of the space itself. Additionally, knowledgeable and personable case workers are an added bonus. Stories highlight the importance of feeling supported by not only the organization but by their case workers specifically. This support helps clients change their narratives; it provides them with positive and hopeful perspectives and helps them reach their immediate and long-term goals. Prior research by Day and colleagues (2017), state how staff that encourages participants to focus on helping them identify their positive aspects of themselves, helps change their narrative positively. This combination of the program, the culture, and the case workers combine to influence clients’ self narratives associated with desistance.
In sum, all individuals participating in HFP exhibit an understanding of desistance and of its importance for their future. Positive self-narratives and hopeful futures were articulated by everyone regardless of whether or not they had a violent or non-violent background. Future research could embrace frameworks from Maruna’s prior studies and compare/contrast ex offenders utilizing a re-entry organization compared to those that are not. None of the interviewee’s displayed the “being doomed to deviance” script nor did they articulate that they were “not succeeding in life.” They also did not portray themselves as being “victims to sources beyond their control.” Therefore, the difference with this study, compared to prior desistance research, is that participants of this project did not voice any sort of condemnation script (see Maruna, 2001).