Robin Gålnander – NSfK ResearchSeminar 2021

Maintaining Desistance: Barriers and Expectations in Women’s Desistance from Crime

Robin Gålnander, Lecturer (temporary), Department of Criminology, Stockholm University


Maintaining desistance is about struggling. It is about leaving a destructive and unwanted way of life behind in pursuit of something else, something unknown, something ‘normal’. When people who have lived their entire life at the margin of society − in poverty, drug use, criminalisation and condemnation − set out to change their lives, what does that mean? Individual reform is not an easy task for anyone, and perhaps even less so for people involved in criminalised lifestyles. Yet, this is at the core of current understandings in criminology and the criminal justice system. But how do people involved with the criminal justice system go about such reform? And how do individual resources and social structure shape the road to inclusion and ‘normality’?

This book is the culmination of a research project covering women’s desistance from crime. The overarching question that the research project grapples with is ‘What is important in the lives of criminalised women as they set out to change their ways of living and acting?’ This broad focus thus includes aspects that may facilitate or hinder desistance; what helps, what impedes, and why?

The results and discussions draw on repeated in-depth interviews with ten women in Sweden. The women had spent the majority of their lives in a position as ‘other’, segregated and excluded from conventional society. For decades, the women were engaged in criminalised lifestyles circulating around common street crime. At the start of the project, these ten women had just set out on a journey towards a new life, striving to leave crime, drugs, exclusion and condemnation behind. The project’s longitudinal design allowed me to take part in the women’s desistance journeys, and study the processes involved.

Findings from the project have been published as articles in scientific journals. This book situates these findings, and discusses the implications of the project as a whole: its methodological, empirical and theoretical contributions. Taken together, the results elucidate both expectations and inhibitions associated with desistance; hopes, outlooks, achievements, as well as barriers or hinders faced along the way. These different findings emphasise the uncertainties involved in ‘going straight’ or maintaining desistance, in ways that adds nuance to and critically furthers contemporary understandings in the research field and criminal justice practice.

The prospective and exploratory approach of this project thus adds to current knowledge by elucidating experiences of structural barriers, relational uncertainties, personal doubt, hope, and aspirations involved in ongoing desistance processes. Looking forward, it is important for future research and criminal justice practice to acknowledge desistance as complex processes. Desistance journeys are subject to relapse and fraught with emotions, hinders, setbacks but also hope and aspirations that all must be taken into consideration if society is to understand and better support people attempting such reform.

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