Overcoming the Odds: Understanding Formerly Incarcerated Women's Desistance from Crime Open Access

Vitorino, Sarah (2012)

Permanent URL: https://etd.library.emory.edu/concern/etds/nc580n530?locale=en


Increasing rates of female incarceration along with high rates of recidivism are
overpopulating America's prison and jails with women who, according to statistics, have
little chance of breaking the cycle of crime and reincarceration (Henriques and Manatu-
Rupert 2001). Despite little likelihood of succeeding, however, a small number of
women find ways of overcoming the challenges of incarceration and reentry and not only
stop offending, but manage to create a meaningful, productive life (Byrne and Trew
2008). To better understand how and why women defy the odds, I constructed a project
that drew together the desistance and positive psychology literatures-two distinct
streams of theory and research. Extending Shadd Maruna's (2001) work on desistance
from crime and building on the contributions of feminist criminologists, I conducted life-
history interviews with 20 formerly incarcerated women (10 self-reported that they were
still committing crimes (i.e. persisting) and 10 self-reported that they were no longer
committing crimes (i.e. desisting). I also administered a well-being measure (MHC-SF)
to these women, building on the work of positive psychologist Corey Keyes. Data
analyses revealed that desisting and persisting formerly incarcerated women varied in
terms of the narrative themes that they used to describe events in their life and in their
mental health scores. Desisting women demonstrated higher levels of overall positive
mental health, enacted various resilience strategies for dealing with challenges, and had
access to key mentors and support networks, which ultimately connected them to tangible
resources and opportunities. Women who were persisting in crime had varying
qualitative and quantitative mental health data, including high mental health scores but
evidence of low mental health in the qualitative data, enacted fewer resilience strategies,
and had access to very little by way of social or tangible resources. My findings suggest
that there could be a relationship between well-being and desistance. As well, my
findings indicate that quantitative mental health research with women who are
committing crimes and those who are using drugs may be more reliable when
supplemented with qualitative data. My dissertation findings provide support for broader
policy and programming that promote well-being and desistance for formerly
incarcerated women.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: Introduction 1

Chapter 2: Desistance and Well-being: A Review of the Literature 9

Chapter 3: Methodology and Research Design 44

Chapter 4: The Role of Identity-based and Psychological Resilience Strategies in Supporting Desistnace 78

Chapter 5: The Role of Interpersonal Resilience Strategies in Supporting Desistance 132

Chapter 6: The Role of Social Supports in Supporting Desistance 153

Chapter 7: Qualitative and Quantitative Measures of Well-being 186

Chapter 8: Research Applications and Future Directions 204

Reflection 216

References 217

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