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Maintenance and relapse in long-term desistance from crime and recovery from addiction

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - SLIPPED (Maintenance and relapse in long-term desistance from crime and recovery from addiction)

Reporting period: 2019-07-01 to 2021-06-30

Long-term desistance from crime, that is, individuals who have achieved a minimum of three years crime free living, has received limited attention from scholars thus far. The majority of studies have focused on ‘probationers’, that is, individuals recently released from prison seeking to resettle into employment, community, and society. This significant knowledge gap is due, in large part, to the difficulty of accessing desisting people once they move away from supervision and support services.

Further, the relationship between crime and drug misuse is a fascinating area of study where very many questions remain to be answered. It is therefore crucial that this potentially fruitful area of study receives attention, especially considering the strong relationship between criminal offending and substance dependence.

The general aim of this project is to understand maintenance and relapse amongst individuals in long-term desistance from crime and recovery from addiction. Many individuals suffering with addiction do not commit acquisitive crime to fund their addictions. Similarly, many people engaged in acquisitive, enterprise, or hostile crime, do not have an addictive relationship with substances. In these cases, processes of desistance from crime and recovery from addiction are independent. This proposed research will examine the interdependent processes of long-term desistance from crime and recovery from addiction within individuals who were formerly drug addicted persistent offenders. A key consideration of this proposed research is to gain insight into why processes of long-term desistance and recovery break-down, and relapse into crime and drug use occur. Therefore, by drawing on the knowledge of Criminology and Addiction Studies, the central objective of this Fellowship is to address the neglected area of maintenance and relapse amongst former drug addicted persistent offenders who have/had achieved more than three years sobriety.

The Fellowships intent is to contribute to knowledge related to societal challenges in the particular areas of European Health and European Security. Sixty individuals, split evenly between two sample populations, were interviewed for this research. Firstly, men and women who have achieved a minimum of three years uninterrupted abstinence from both criminal offending and drug addiction. The second sample consisted of men and women who are at the beginnings of their recovery journey (within the first year), but who had previously achieved long-term desistance and recovery and then relapsed.
The samples in this research represent an extremely hard to reach population under normal circumstances. Exploitation and dissemination include a number of peer reviewed academic publications, as well as a full monograph to be published by Routledge in 2022. Importantly, a special targeted report for services and organisations, both statutory and voluntary / community, who provide recovery and desistance support was prepared. This report provides key service provision recommendations for services and policy makers. Project results were disseminated at conferences on an ongoing basis throughout the life of the project, with a special focus brought to the on-the-ground services for the research target population.

The foremost finding from the research is that periods of unrelenting stress are important for understanding relapse amongst those who had achieved long term recovery from addiction and desistance form crime. While various reasons for, and causes of, these protracted periods of personal difficulties are elaborated upon, common themes include 1) a very difficult personal problem that persists over time, 2) isolating from support groups and networks, and 3) a diminishment of recovery capital and coping skills. Project findings detail how many participants lived through prolonged and extremely difficult periods of personal pain and despair, and eventually turned to drugs to ease their discomfort.

One prominent theme in the lives of those who did relapse is the presence of behavioural addictions during periods of chemical sobriety and desistance for crime. While these men and women were able to maintain recovery from chemical use for long periods, they continued to struggle with addiction to gambling, food, and especially sex. Such behavioural addictions had a profoundly negative effect on participants, it greatly reduced the joy of recovery, made personal relationships difficult, impacted parenting, and created ongoing feelings of personal failure, despair, and toxic shame.

Becoming distanced from peer recovery communities whether 12 step or other, can lead to a (re) corruption of personal values conducive to recovery. Prioritisation of non-recovery or non-spiritual values, such as consumerism and materialism, can encourage participation in acquisitive criminality. The cognitive, emotional, and indeed moral, maturity that can result from dedication to the 12 Step program cannot be short cut by those entering recovery. For some participants in this research, even though they achieved years in abstinence and desistance, the demands of such a program commitment were more than they were willing to countenance.

A key trend that differentiates some of those who relapsed is involvement in acquisitive or organised crime during abstinence. Those who maintained recovery from addiction were most likely to apply themselves to a recovery program of living where honesty in personal and social affairs is important. Some of those who lost their chemical abstinence, however, while initially being committed to 12 step values, became involved in various type of enterprise crime. Participants detailed how their values became corrupted as they chased wealth through crime, became increasingly materialistic, and indeed some thrived in serious and organised crime.
This project provides very significant progress beyond the state of the art. It must be emphasised that the research population in this project are exceptionally hard to reach groups. Individuals in long term recovery from addiction and desistance from crime are rarely linked in with recovery services or probation or other criminal justice agencies, and are generally indistinguishable from the general public. This research project managed to access 60 of these men and women, and gather the detailed and rich data their stories contain. The analysis is enriched by the most relevant and high-quality literature, and included significant gender balance. The resulting study, therefore, progresses the field of study well beyond the state of the art, and represents the only study of its kind conducted to date.
The results should encourage a positive societal impact by enabling this agencies and services tasked with supporting recovery and desistance with key insights into this very hidden population. Results from the study demonstrate that there were, in the lives of many of these men and women, very many windows of opportunity for prosocial help and support to be provided. Such support services simply do not exist currently. Relapse occurs amongst those with significant “clean time” and therefore much can be done to provide support during periods of difficulty. This study provides insights into these dynamics of recovery and relapse, and recommendations for agencies and services.

No website has been developed for this project