issues raise critical questions about the meaning of desistance, and, consequently, about how to measure it or determine whether it is occurring.
Whether using official records or self-reports, it is clear that how one defines desistance affects the measures and determinations about who desists and the relative size of the desisting population (for discussion of these issues, respectively, see Bushway et al., 2003; Brame et al., 2003). Kazemian (2007) reviews various operational definitions in past studies of desistance, which include convictions at age 21 but not between ages 21 and 32 (Farrington and Hawkins, 1991), the absence of a new officially recorded offense or probation violation in a 2-year period (Kruttschnitt et al., 2000) and the absence of self-reported illegal earnings during a 1-year period (Pezzin, 1995; see also Kazemian, 2007: Table 1, for more details from additional studies). Kazemian (2007, p. 8) concludes that the “substantial degree of variability in the conceptualization of desistance … has led to disparate results regarding the causes and correlates of desistance from crime.”
The issue of reintegration in society is considered as part of desistance in this report because the committee believes it may be a necessary condition for the maintenance of desistance. A recent National Research Council (2005) report notes that there is little standardization of how outcomes such as desistance or recidivism should be measured in the evaluation of programs. Moreover, the findings on desistance from crime as a result of informal social controls come from longitudinal research, not program evaluation research. Empirical work is needed to examine how different definitions of desistance, as well as different research approaches, affect research outcomes.
There is currently no agreed-on definition of desistance, but there is a growing consensus among researchers that it is best defined as a process, not an event, in which the frequency of crimes decelerates and exhibits less variety (see Bushway et al., 2001; Laub and Sampson, 2003; Maruna, 2001; Uggen and Massoglia, 2003; Weitekamp and Kerner, 1994; Loeber and LeBlanc, 1990; LeBlanc and Fréchette, 1989). For example, Maruna (2001, p. 17) defines desistance not as an event that happens, but, rather, as “the sustained absence of a certain type of event (in this case, crime).”
A National Research Council report (1986) noted that care must be taken not to erroneously attribute the absence of further crime events near the end of an observation period or at the end of a specific age to (career) desistance rather than to the random time between events. Improved measures of the permanent absence of offending, which remains the clearest definition of desistance from crime, are needed.
Laub and Sampson (2001, 2003) have argued that it is important to analytically distinguish termination of offending from the concept of desistance: “termination” refers to the time at which one stops criminal activity,