Gender Differences in Desistance From Crime: How Do Formerly Incarcerated Emerging Adults Use Social Supports?
Method: The methodology for this study was a qualitative, narrative approach. The sample included 14 emerging adults (seven men and seven women, ages 18-24) with histories of juvenile incarceration. The participants were recruited purposively from community-based agencies in Los Angeles, California. Young men with histories of lower-level crimes were selected from a larger pool of participants in order to be comparable with the young women’s backgrounds. Two qualitative, semi-structured interviews were conducted with each participant. Analysis was conducted using an inductive coding approach and by comparing narratives and themes across genders. Strategies for rigor included multiple interviews and member checking.
Results: All 14 participants were successful in desisting from crime during the transition to adulthood although related struggles (e.g., housing, employment) remained. Findings indicated that both men and women used their support networks for the primary purposes of motivation toward desistance and to meet their daily needs. However, there were nuanced differences in their perceptions and uses of these support systems. Young men were motivated to stay out of crime through a desire to provide tangible support to their families. They turned less to formal community resources and readily accepted the assistance that their informal networks, including friends and family, provided. Unlike the young men, the young women overwhelmingly expressed a desire for self-reliance and a sense that they disliked reaching out to informal supports outside of their family systems. Yet still, the women were more likely to actively use formal community resources and to further derive informal support through their robust formal networks.
Implications: Both young men and women in this study revealed that their primary sources of motivation stemmed from their families, but the driving forces behind these motivations varied. Young women managed to leverage their existing formal networks to cultivate new supports to address their struggles; young men turned to their informal networks despite the availability of formal resources. The contrast between men and women regarding their inclination to use formal or informal supports shows that these formerly incarcerated emerging adults are able to reach similar goals and ultimately desist from crime, albeit in a gendered way. Providing insight into what makes a successful pathway to desistance can contribute to allocating resources that work for young men and women—although perhaps differentially—in practice settings.