Date of Award

Summer 8-2016

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Criminal Justice

First Advisor

Timothy Brezina

Second Advisor

Volkan Topalli

Third Advisor

Mark Reed


Several studies suggest that desistance from crime is influenced by factors such as age, gender, race/ethnicity, prior offending, delinquent peer associations, self-control, educational attainment, and social bonds (e.g. Blumstein, Farrington, & Moitra, 1985; Elliot, 1994; Gottfredson & Hirschi, 1990; Laub and Sampson, 1993; McCord, 1980; Uggen & Kruttschnitt, 1998). In addition, Maruna (2001) alludes to the importance of personal agency suggesting that offender’s perceptions about their own ability to change are an essential component of the desistance process. Drawing upon qualitative data, Maruna finds that persisting offenders “…feel powerless to change their behavior” (2001:74). Maruna refers to this perceived lack of control over the future as a sense of being “doomed to deviance” and suggests that persistent offenders struggle to desist because they view themselves as victims of circumstance(s) and unable to change. Thus, offenders’ perceptions about their own ability to change are said to play a significant role in desistance.

Using longitudinal data involving 1,354 serious youthful offenders from the Pathways to Desistance study, the primary purpose of this investigation was to conduct a quantitative test of Maruna’s (2001) arguments. The data were used to examine the statistical relationship between future behavior and offenders’ perceptions about their ability to desist. In addition, this study examined substance abuse and social support as factors that potentially shape offenders’ expectations regarding their own ability to change. Consistent with Maruna’s (2001) work, the results indicate that offender’s perceptions about their ability to stay out of trouble with the law do impact future offending behavior. The results also show, however, that substance abuse and social support do not exert significant (direct) effects on perceived chances of staying out of trouble with the law, controlling for other variables. Implications for policy and theory are discussed.