THE IMPACT OF SOCIO-DEMOGRAPHIC CHARACTERISTICS AND COGNITIVE TRANSFORMATION ON DESISTANCE FROM HIGH RISK BEHAVIORS
Anderson, Annika Yvette
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According to social control theorists, high-risk adolescents who find stable jobs and spouses may be less likely to engage in future criminal behaviors. Although there are several socio-demographic variables that are likely to predict desistance, social support (or the lack thereof) and individual efforts are also instrumental in the desistance process. There is a growing awareness among scholars that life course criminology has largely ignored the role of human agency and the choices people make about whether or not to desist from crime. Yet, only a few studies have examined the effect of social-psychological variables or individual-level identity changes on desistance. This study explores the conduits and barriers to identity transformation and successful desistance for a sample of high-risk adolescents transitioning into adulthood in the United States. I use multivariate analyses of data drawn from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997–2011 (rounds 1–15), to answer several research questions: 1) Who among high-risk youth are most likely to undergo a cognitive transformation? 2) Who is most likely to desist? 3) What impact does cognitive transformation have on chances of desistance? 4) What are the similar/different factors relevant for race-ethnic groups in the cognitive transformation and desistance process?This study investigates the impact of both social bonds and an individual’s cognitive change between 1997 and 2000 on criminality in 2000 and 2001. My findings show that Hispanic respondents who envisioned better futures for themselves had decreased chances of a future arrest compared to those whose future expectations did not change or worsened. I also found that there may be racial differences in the identity change and desistance process because black respondents were less likely than Hispanic respondents to envision positive future changes. This research adds a social psychological perspective to the desistance literature and is necessary in light of the high arrest/incarceration rates (especially among blacks) and the subsequent large population of formerly incarcerated people in the United States.