Desistance in Norway — Panel at Eurocrim 2018

This guest post comes from John Todd, a doctoral researcher at the University of Oslo.

This quick post is to let those heading to the European Society of Criminology conference in Cardiff know that there will be a panel on ongoing desistance research in Norway. The panel is entitled ‘Desistance and penal welfarism: desistance from crime in Norway’ and will be on Friday 15th September at 15.45. There will be three speakers and  Fergus has kindly agreed to act as discussant, giving some comments on each of the presentations.

With the exceptional state of penality in Scandinavia under debate, the panel seeks to outline some key aspects of desistance in the Norwegian context. Do the low imprisonment rates, the humane approach to prisons and probation and the egalitarian culture and social structure observed by John Pratt almost a decade ago create the perfect environment for desistance? Or are the challenges of desistance in Norway similar to those in other states?

The individual papers are as follows:

Welfare, hope and desistance – the interplay of external and internal factors in the early phases of desistance: Emma Villman (University of Oslo)

Much of the research on desistance from crime has focused on either social factors or more subjective causes for change. This dichotomy between the external and the internal has long been criticized, and several attempts to integrate insights from both perspectives have been made. How such an interplay of social and subjective factors initiates and shapes the desistance process is, however, still in need of further conceptualization and theorization.

Using data from a survey on living conditions among prisoners in Norway (N=264), the necessity of an integrated understanding of external and internal factors in the desistance process is stressed. When studying anticipated desistance among Norwegian prisoners, one may find that both subjective and structural factors play a central part in the earliest phases of desistance; not separately, but intertwined in a complex interplay. In contrast to earlier attempts of finding out ”what comes first” in the desistance process, these results indicate that such attempts might give us a somewhat misguided focus. What if it is the interplay itself that initiates the change towards desistance?

Adolescent Desistance: Thomas Anton Sandøy (Norwegian Institute of Public Health)

While much research on desistance focuses on processes of change for repeat offenders during and after imprisonment, this paper analyzes the desistance narratives of young offenders outside the traditional justice system. In Norway, increasing numbers of adolescent drug users have been diverted to alternative justice systems over the last decade. Based on in-depth interviews with adolescents enrolled in programs to refrain from drug use and the workers administering these programs, the paper seeks to identify narrative ‘turning-points’ implicated in the desistance process. The analysis show how the adolescents enter into moral conversations about what ‘truly matters’ in life and how their relationships with family and friends have been affected by their drug use and criminality. The administrators, on the other hand, place a stronger emphasis on the impact of wider societal factors on desistance. Taken together, the narratives display the interplay between subjective commitments (agency), and the role of interventions and social factors (structure) in adolescent desistance.

Talking good: a psychosocial analysis of Norwegian desistance narratives: John Todd (University of Oslo)

This paper seeks to employ insights from psychosocial criminology in order to analyse the narratives of a group of Norwegian desisters. The desistance process is of course complex and each individual’s story will be unique. But desistance also occurs in a social and structural context, with Norway labelled by some observers as one of the last bastions of penal welfarism. It is thus important to analyse how structural, relational and individual factors are narrated as enabling or frustrating change. Narrative analysis of this kind can help us avoid the extremes of structural (‘he came from a broken home’) and psychological (‘she suffers from low self-control’) determinism. This presentation seeks therefore to analyse a set of biographical narrative interviews in order to better understand how the desistance process in Norway is shaped both by the inner, psychic world and the external, social world of those doing the desisting.

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