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Agency, Self-Efficacy, and Desistance from Crime: an Application of Social Cognitive Theory

  • Tricia M. Johnston
  • Timothy Brezina
  • Beverly R. Crank
ORIGINAL ARTICLE

Abstract

Purpose

To explain why many offenders desist from crime, and why some persist, some theorists highlight the role of personal agency. Qualitative studies, in particular, observe that desisting offenders tend to express a “language of agency”—they view themselves as capable of influencing their actions and environment—while persistent offenders tend to see themselves as relatively helpless and even “doomed to deviance.”

Methods

Drawing on Bandura’s social cognitive theory, which highlights self-efficacy as a key mechanism of agency, we analyze quantitative data from a large sample of serious offenders and examine how confidence in their ability to desist (desistance self-efficacy) is related to offending behavior. To advance research in this area, we focus on within-person effects and examine how changes in desistance self-efficacy relate to changes in offending over time. We also examine factors that are expected to enable or constrain personal agency.

Results

The findings indicate that a number of factors contribute to changes in desistance self-efficacy. An increase in desistance self-efficacy, in turn, is associated with a decrease in overall criminal involvement.

Conclusions

Implications for theory, research, and policy are discussed.

Keywords

Agency Self-efficacy Desistance Theory Longitudinal data 

Notes

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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Criminal Justice and CriminologyGeorgia State UniversityAtlantaUSA
  2. 2.Kennesaw State UniversityKennesawUSA

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