A contemporary life course approach to understanding recidivism: the impact of informal social control, agency and substance abuse on post-prison survival

Berg, Mark
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National data suggests that more than two-thirds of prisoners will return to crime, or recidivate, after they are released from prison. Up to this point considerable research attention has been devoted to uncovering the correlates of recidivism. However, scholars have not yet explored the effects of a number of post-post prison informal social controls on release outcomes; namely tangential family relationships and structured living arrangements. In addition there is a lack of empirical evidence with regard to the empirical association between human agency and recidivism. In recent years criminologists have recognized these factors as potentially influential determinants of rearrest. Utilizing a sample of 475 ex-convicts, this study employs survival analysis to determine the impact of time stable characteristics in relationship to informal social controls, substance abuse and human agency on offenders' risk for recidivism. Multiple analytical models organized around the age-graded theory of informal social control suggested that legitimate employment, structured living arrangements and conventional friends led to reductions in rates of recidivism; moreover these informal social controls mediated the adverse effects on release outcomes posed by criminal history and race. In reference to substance abuse, heavy drug use was shown to increase offenders' risk for post-prison failure. Human agency, conceptualized as an offender's motivation to change, also ameliorated both the risk of time-stable characteristics and drug abuse, as well as mediated the negative relationship between structured living arrangements and the odds of recidivism. Taken together these findings indicate that ex-convicts, especially those who are committed to change, can positively redirect their antisocial trajectories through attachments to conventional friends, the maintenance of a legitimate job, stable housing and by avoiding illicit drug use.