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Book Review | Cultures of Desistance: Rehabilitation, Reintegration, and Ethnic Minorities

Published onOct 01, 2015
Book Review | Cultures of Desistance: Rehabilitation, Reintegration, and Ethnic Minorities

Adam Calverly. Cultures of Desistance: Rehabilitation, Reintegration, and Ethnic Minorities. Routledge, 2012; 230 pp.; ISBN: 9780415623483.


Third in an international series investigating desistance and rehabilitation, Adam Calverly’s Cultures of Desistance builds on the extant desistance literature through a comparative analysis of the impact of micro-, meso-, and macrolevel factors on the processes associated with criminal disengagement on Indian, Bangladeshi and Black/Dual Heritage offenders in the Brixton neighborhood of London. The author has previously established expertise in the area of ethnicity and desistance through such as Understanding Desistance from Crime: Emerging Theoretical Directions in Resettlement and Rehabilitation (2005) co-authored with Steve Farrell and Black and Asian Offenders on Probationers (2004). Much of the data presented in Cultures of Desistance was originally gathered as a part of the author’s doctoral dissertation. Currently, Calverly holds a position as a lecturer in Criminology at the University of Hull.

In his introduction, Calverly states his central research question clearly: “What are the factors and processes associated with desistance from crime among some of the UK’s principal minority ethnic groups?” (p. 4). Hypostatizing the redemptive narratives of Rois Ali and Levi Roots, Calverly explores the transition from offender to law abiding (even successful) member of society. Speaking to the larger contextual issue, Calverly questions whether the processes that influenced desistance for Rois Ali and Levi Roots are specific to the individuals themselves or whether they are indicative of disengagement for members of each respective ethnic group. The author’s inductive approach to desistance constitutes a welcomed departure from previous studies; he weaves together both structural (i.e. family, friends, and employment) and cultural (i.e. religion, values, recognition) level indicators, serving to not only posit contextual factors of the individual offender but, also, illustrate the backdrop in which their choices to desist occur.

Having established the overall direction for his tome, the author then embarks upon a review and critique of relevant literature, covering the ins and outs of ethnicity, desistance, and crime. Calverly clearly argues that ethnicity should enjoy similar prominence among theories seeking to explain desistance. Cultures of Desistance differs from previous research; it maintains that critiques of why individuals turn from crime should include feedback from those engaged in the process. This feedback should then be integrated into programs, policies, and initiatives to aid desistance. Additionally, the author argues that desistance is best thought of as a process rather than an event, a novel approach that accounts for a more accurate depiction of the dynamic interplay between micro-, meso-, and macrolevel impediments faced by desisters and would-be desisters.

A detailed outline of methodology comprises Chapter 3. Calverly’s analysis involves 34 one-on-one semi-structured interviews. The author painstakingly details the processes of selecting and interviewing participants for the study, which included former offenders and supervisory staff who worked with these individuals in a professional capacity. He also describes the demographic characteristics of his sample including ethnicity, age at first conviction, and current sentence status at the time of interview before explaining the qualitative analytic approach adopted to make sense of his data.

The next three chapters (4, 5, and 6) follow members of each respective ethnic group under study, detailing their individual experiences of rehabilitation and reintegration. While examining the processes associated with desistance among the ethnic minority offenders under study, Calverly demonstrates that family is a strong factor influencing desistance among the Indian and Bangladeshi participants. Through a system of financial, social and sometimes spiritual support, Indian and Bangladeshi families are able to act as a safety net for those likely to fall back into criminal activity. While findings for Indian and Bangladeshi offenders emphasize the central role of family on desistance, data suggest unanticipated results for Black/Dual Heritage offenders and their families. Specifically, Calverly posits that key factors like endemic poverty and institutional discrimination adversely impacted the network of social and economic support available to Black/Dual heritage offenders, effectively diminishing the Black/Dual Heritage families’ protective power. This lack of a safety net, Calverly argues, leads to increased susceptibility to criminogenic environments for Black/Dual heritage offenders as they are left to identify innovative means for survival. In addition to the attention Calverly rightly draws to ethnicity and desistance, his work also serves as an impetus for further study into the differential needs of ethnic minorities vis-a-vis rehabilitation and reintegration, in an effort to provide for more accurate and effective allocation of time and resources.

In sum, Cultures of Desistance is a worthwhile contribution to the body  of knowledge on desistance. However, the intricate  methodology  section and lofty themes throughout may be too difficult for the lay reader. For this reason, this text may be best for academics, experienced practitioners, and policymakers. Moreover,  although Calverly’s decision to limit the analysis   to desisters was understandable given the already expansive scope of the study, it would have been interesting to see the author compare desisters to a sample of individuals who persisted in their criminal engagement, as well as individuals without any formal criminal history in order to identify compositional differences between groups. Moreover, it would have been enlightening if more differentiation between African, Caribbean, and Dual Heritage desisters and their families were presented because the cultural traditions of these members of the African Diaspora are not monolithic in nature. Despite these concerns, Cultures of Desistance stands as a well-crafted, exploratory accounting of the influence of ethnicity on the path to rehabilitation and reintegration.

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