Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





David Brotherton

Committee Members

James M. Jasper

Shadd Maruna

Jayne Mooney

Subject Categories



desistance, prison, ethnography


This dissertation is a qualitative examination of aspects of the desistance process among incarcerated men in both prison and jail. Data collection for this project occurred in and around the correctional version of the Council For Unity program, which is also examined in this write up. The premise of this project is that a minority of men do desist whilst incarcerated and thus the research presented here analyzes how prisoners act towards their attempts to desist from crime in terms of the meaning this process has for them, their interaction with others during this process, and the interpretative progression by which meanings of self, other, and environment are handled and modified with the goal of becoming crime free, both behind and beyond bars. Data collection for this project consisted of eighteen months of ethnographic observation of the Council For Unity program sessions held at a local jail as well as an unstructured survey administered to twenty five program participants at a maximum security facility. The findings are as follows. Data from the unstructured surveys suggests that prisoners conceive of and orientate towards prison spaces and their occupants in the manner of an ecology, in which certain places – entrapment niches – forestall desistance, whereas others – enabling niches – promote and sustain desistance. Findings from ethnographic observation suggest that program participants, jail inmates, in discussing their attempts to desist, frequently evoked the role of “the streets” or streetlife in this process, both as a seductive force as well as an undertow associated with drowning or submersion. Further findings that an orientation towards the streetlife can be challenged by three categories of events: the recognition of time as a diminishing force, the impact negative emotional events and the potency of disillusionment with criminal peers. This project also examined a series of generative exchanges within the program space. Findings here suggest that program participants are partially primed towards generative behavior and thought, although the ability to forward self as a deterrent is tempered by the need to maintain continuity of self in the change process.

Included in

Criminology Commons