Psychological and criminological factors associated with desistance from violence: A review of the literature.

Kate Walker, Erica Bowen, Sarah Brown

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    27 Citations (Scopus)


    Ample evidence exists that offenders eventually terminate their criminal careers, and this holds true for violent offenders. The causal mechanisms responsible for triggering and maintaining this process remain unclear; meaning that desistance from violence is poorly understood. This comprehensive review of the literature revealed that research in this area is hampered by definitional, operational, and measurement inconsistencies. Several of the conceptual frameworks used to explain desistance from delinquency have not been specifically applied in relation to violence. However, it was found that criminological enquiry suggests that informal social control (e.g., stable relationship and employment) play a role in desistance from violence and that theoretical frameworks which examine both internal and external change seem to show promise as an aid to understanding the desistance process. Psychological research has tended to focus on the role of risk and protective factors in relation to desistance but this, particularly protective factors, is currently under-researched. More knowledge needs to be assembled about how: (1) the mechanics of protective factors mitigate risk of future violence, and (2) how they play a role in the maintenance of violent free behaviors. Findings from criminology and psychology need to be expanded and integrated to extend our understanding of desistance from violence.

    ► We examine psychological and criminological literature on desistance from violence. ► Definitional operational and measurement inconsistencies are identified. ► Internal and external change needed to enable desistance from violence. ► Relevance of risk and protective factors in desistance process argued. ► Integrating psychological and criminological enquiry is proposed.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)286-299
    Number of pages14
    JournalAggression and Violent Behavior
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - 2013


    • Desistance
    • Violence
    • Informal social control
    • Risk factors
    • Protective factors


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