Pathways to re/integration

I’ve spent the last two days at a fascinating conference at Queen’s University Belfast (organised by Mark Farmer, Anne-Marie McAlinden and Shadd Maruna) on desistance from sexual offending. More of that later perhaps, but one key issue that seems to be recurring in any contemporary discussion of desistance is the question Allan Weaver poses in The Road from Crime: ‘What are we asking people to desist into?’ I’ve been struggling with that question ever since Allan raised it. Here’s an excerpt from and then a link to a new article (co-authored with Steve Kirkwood) that tries to edge towards an answer…


The development of scholarship related to particular categories of people who are subject to different forms of social control often results in subfields that become or remain isolated from each other, reinforced by artificial boundaries between professional bodies and academic disciplines. This means that advances in knowledge may not always cross from one subfield to another. As a specific example, practice and theory relating to the integration of asylum seekers and the reintegration or rehabilitation of ‘ex-offenders’ have largely developed in isolation from one another. However, in both contexts, similar processes and goals apply, and in both contexts these processes and goals relate to people who are marginalised through formal legal and informal social processes. For these reasons, we suspect there is much to gain through critically comparing these two fields. In this paper we do this by exploring the resonance of McNeill’s (2012) model of ‘Four forms of ‘offender’ rehabilitation’ with the experiences of asylum seekers and the resonance of Ager and Strang’s (2004) model of ‘Indicators of integration’, originally developed for use with refugees and asylum seekers, with the experiences of ex-offenders. Our intention is that such a cross-field comparison will help advance theory and understanding relating to both subfields and in doing so, work towards the development of a broader framework in which knowledge regarding integration and citizenship can be pooled in order to progress theory and practice in social work and related disciplines.

This article contributes to the growing body of research and theory on the intersections between criminal justice and immigration policies and practices (e.g., Aas, 2011; Bosworth & Guild, 2008; Malloch & Stanley, 2005; Pickering & Weber, 2014). Much of this research has been concerned with the criminalisation of migrants and much of it therefore brings critical criminological notions to the understanding of attempts to control migration, focusing on aspects of border control, policing and detention. The present article takes a somewhat different approach by bringing concepts from migration studies to the examination of criminological issues and by specifically engaging with issues of rehabilitation and reintegration…



We hope that this article has demonstrated the usefulness of comparing research, theory and practice across sub-fields that share similar goals and processes in relation to re/integration. While this discussion has focused specifically on the integration of asylum seekers and ‘ex-offenders’, similar comparisons might be instructive in relation to other sub-fields and groups in society, such as: those recovering from substance problems or mental health issues; people experiencing homelessness; victims of crime; people with disabilities; etc. Such work might help to develop common frameworks that allow for better synthesis of research, theory and practice across sub-fields in order to benefit understanding and service delivery. In this regard, the common thread is an interest in achieving integration or enjoying ‘citizenship’, broadly conceived, across segments of society that otherwise experience disadvantage and isolation. Hopefully this contribution emphasises the importance of looking beyond disciplinary boundaries to explore issues that have commonalities for people with quite diverse backgrounds.

We recognise that there are complex and enduring problems with the concepts of integration and citizenship. Perhaps in taking this discussion forward, for example, we would need to more clearly articulate the differences between liberal and republican versions of citizenship (Braithwaite and Pettit, 1992); the latter placing greater stress on the importance of positive liberties and social as well as political rights. Equally, we might need to engage with contemporary debates about the prospects for and desirable forms of social solidarity in late-modern, complex societies. Following Hudson (2008), we would argue for a cosmopolitan vision of justice – one that recognises the centrality of obligations of hospitality within ‘societies of strangers’; obligations rooted in the insistence upon respecting our common humanity irrespective of our origins and identities – and, in the case of ‘offenders’ even irrespective of the harms we may have caused in the past.

While it is not our intention to impose a single or simplistic goal that must be applied to all areas of social services, and certainly not for all individuals, we see merit in compelling public services (including asylum and criminal justice services) to engage with the central question of what social goods (and what kind of society) they exist to promote, rather than being justified, defined and measured in terms of their contribution to minimising harms. We suspect that the latter way of framing services militates towards segmentation between services, rather than their integration, and that it tends to dehumanise their recipients as bearers of risks or needs, rather than as citizens who may need some support to enjoy their rights and fulfil their obligations.”

If this excerpt has whetted your appetite, you can read the full final draft version of the article here: Kirkwood and McNeill (final). Or you can access the published version here:


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