Desistance from offending is generally conceptualized as a process involving an interplay between ‘objective’, or external factors, and ‘subjective’, or internal factors, with different theoretical and empirical accounts of desistance prioritizing either the role of social contexts or agency in the process. Drawing on both the life stories of a naturally forming group of men, now in their 40s, who once offended together, but whose lives have since diverged and Pierpaolo Donati’s relational theory of reflexivity, this study foregrounds a re-conceptualization of the desistance process as inescapably relational. Emphasizing the importance of the relational context of desistance necessarily has implications for social and penal policy and practice responses, and this article thus proceeds to explore the extent to which extant policies variously facilitate or hinder processes of change and make relevant social supports. In so doing, this article considers how social and penal policy might become more orientated to generating, developing and sustaining the kinds of social capital and reflexive, relational networks relevant to desistance.
University of Strathclyde