A qualitative exploration of the role of employment in desistance and subsequent identity change - ex-prisoners’ lived experiences

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In the context of desistance, employment has been described as a contributing factor in the formation of a non-offending identity. The present study examined the lived experiences of adult male ex-offenders who had served a custodial sentence in the United Kingdom (UK), to explore the potential influence of employment as a desistance-promoting factor in the construction of a new, non-offending identity.
Interpretative phenomenological analysis was applied to eight semi-structured interview transcripts, up to twelve months after release from prison, from which five themes emerged.
Findings showed that lawful income through employment is associated with a shift in the values and goals of former prisoners, but only after transformation from an offending identity into a pro-desistance identity had taken place. The early days of prison, soon after induction, were reported as critical to catalyzing identity reconstruction. Once committed to a non-offending identity, desistance was then consolidated by employment and external support.
External support soon after arrival at prison may be useful in helping offenders to develop a non-offending identity. Professionals within the prison service could initiate identity reconstruction strategies in the days immediately following arrival at prison. This was shown to have potential as a key phase of reflection for offenders, which could result in life-changing identity reconstruction.
The findings challenge previous research which suggests that identity change occurs on release from prison, or after sourcing regular employment. The application of identity reconstruction strategies, immediately following arrival at prison, might provide a useful approach when supporting the development of a non-offending identity among adult men serving a custodial sentence.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)168-183
JournalThe Journal of Forensic Practice
Issue number2
Early online date7 Apr 2022
Publication statusPublished - 19 Apr 2022

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