This article reviews the contributions of existing research to the understanding of the process of desistance from antisocial activity for serious adolescent offenders, identifies important areas warranting further research, and presents a framework in which such research can be developed and pursued.
The refinement and improvement of court actions with serious adolescent offenders requires more than just the intelligent application of existing knowledge or past research findings; it requires new information or research beyond what is known. Specifically, predictions of when juvenile offenders will desist from crime, and what mix of sanctions and interventions will hasten that process are needed. Researchers can offer this type of information or knowledge to courts by assessing the effects of sanctions and interventions in promoting desistance to assist in their continued efforts to improve. This article, sponsored jointly by the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, National Institute of Justice and Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, examines existing longitudinal research on delinquency, literature on desistance from delinquency, and how to build a general framework for desistance research. The general framework presented can be useful for guiding future research plans. It is a broad outline of how research in this area might evolve and provides a way to formulate constructs and proposed relationships that can be tested for their roles in promoting desistance. An array of mechanisms are laid out by which desistance can occur and emphasize the potential utility of exploring those tied to normative development in late adolescence. The overall goal is to explain how desistance occurs in a select group of adolescents, those who end up in the juvenile and adult justice systems. The large task for researchers is to identify the common mechanisms for changes in offending that occur in serious offenders, and to put this theoretical framework into a useful body of knowledge. The investigation of desistance can provide sound theoretical guidance for difficult decisions facing the courts dealing with serious adolescent offenders. Systematic research on desistance holds promise for improving policy and practice regarding serious adolescent offenders. References