Doing desistance in divided neighbourhoods : the role of conflict-affected neighbourhoods in the desistance process during reintegration

  • Shane Bell

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


The process of desistance during reintegration from prison has received increasing attention within criminological literature. Yet, little is known about the role that neighbourhoods and a legacy of conflict may play in the desistance process at this time and the degree to which current theory and practice can comprehensively address broader neighbourhood factors that may significantly shape this process. In order to expand our knowledge of this topic, this research adopted a triangulated qualitative mixed methods approach. The research design was comprised of interviews, observations and media analysis. In total, 44 interviews were conducted (29 with individuals who were reintegrating into conflict-affected neighbourhoods and 15 with key neighbourhood representatives and criminal justice staff members involved in reintegration). Additionally, 60 hours of observations were conducted (4 hours of
participant observations of staff working with these individuals and 56 hours of observations of the neighbourhoods under study). Lastly, 135 news articles documenting anti-social/criminal behaviour within the conflict-affected neighbourhoods were analysed from three of the largest news outlets in Northern Ireland (NI) throughout the 12-month period of the data collection.

This research provides a number of key original theoretical insights that comprise a unique theoretical contribution to desistance literature. The first is that neighbourhoods and a legacy of conflict affect the desistance process during reintegration among those with a persistent offending background. The findings indicate that barriers to desistance are inherently bound up in the complex interplay between individual needs/issues and a variety of neighbourhood factors. The data revealed that experiences of growing up and living in multiply deprived neighbourhoods have contributed to a host of individual needs/issues that increased the likelihood of engaging in crime and also offending following release from prison. It was also evident that a range of neighbourhood factors, some of which legacyrelated, compounded these needs/issues, forming substantial barriers to desistance. These included criminogenic norms and values, drug and substance abuse, public disorder, opportunities, social integration, paramilitary involvement, as well as employment and housing issues. In expanding our understanding of the desistance process in conflict-affected neighbourhoods, and in neighbourhoods more generally, these insights emphasise the need for a broader neighbourhood-level conceptualisation of the desistance process that has yet to be fully realised within existing desistance

Additionally, the findings emphasise that in light of the limitations of existing desistance literature, reintegrative services have not been designed nor informed in such a way that allows them to fully address the issues that stem from the neighbourhood-level. Subsequently, it appears that services may be limited in their ability to address the extent of the issues created by these contexts, thereby hindering desistance outcomes. Given these insights, the research proposes a layered desistance
model which helps to illuminate the nature of the relationships that appear to exist between individual needs/issues and neighbourhood factors. In doing so, this research not only provides a means of understanding the role that neighbourhoods and a legacy of conflict can play in the desistance process, but also advocates for a number of improvements to service delivery.
Date of AwardDec 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SupervisorCheryl Lawther (Supervisor) & Michelle Butler (Supervisor)


  • Desistance
  • Reintegration
  • Neighbourhoods
  • Post-Conflict
  • Prison

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