Young People and Desistance from Crime: Perspectives from New Zealand
This thesis examines the process by which young people stop, or 'desist' from, criminal offending in New Zealand. It does so by presenting insights on desistance gained from observations and interviews with young ex-offenders and those who work closely with them. In doing so, it avoids the exaggerated responses to youth crime expressed in political rhetoric and the popular media, and instead focuses on factors that are deemed most valuable in desistance by those most involved. This primary research is presented in the context of the existing literature that establishes desistance as a process influenced by the interaction of multiple variables including individual, social, and structural factors. Analysis of structural factors highlights the need for young people, especially those who experience economic marginalisation or racial discrimination, to be provided with opportunities to change. While the current New Zealand youth justice system generally does well to limit the negative impact of formal system contact for young people, it is noted that the focus on individual plans and strategies fails to adequately address social relations and structural conditions that are integral to desistance processes. The results of this study show that young desisters have mainstream aspirations for stable employment and relationships. Key factors of desistance identified in this study include the influence of 'growing up', family support and positive relationships. In other words, desistance from crime was the result of moving towards something positive in life. It is therefore argued that desistance is also more likely to be sustained with ongoing personal and social support. Rather than being passive victims of structural inequalities, or completely rational actors, this study found young desisters to be influenced by a combination of structural, social and individual factors. The ultimate recommendation is to enhance existing policy through wider strategies that address structural issues, such as poverty and unemployment, together with the development of social and cultural capital, so that desistance processes can be further encouraged in New Zealand's young offenders.