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Desistance, recovery, and justice capital
Desistance, recovery, and justice capital: Putting it all together

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Putting it all together

The latest (28 October 2022) Academic Insight from the probation inspectorate highlights the importance of recovery capital and justice capital to desistance and community integration. The report: Desistance, Recovery, and Justice Capital: Putting it all together  by Hazel Kemshall, Emeritus Professor of Community and Criminal Justice at De Montfort University, and Kieran McCartan, Professor of Criminology at the University of the West of England.

Key concepts

The authors start by defining the key concepts. Recovery capital highlights the importance of the context that the individual finds themselves in and how their risk factors and existing/developing protective factors link to desistance from criminogenic behaviour. In brief, the core components of recovery capital are as follows:

  • social capital is defined as the sum of resources that each person has because of their relationships, including support from, and obligations to, groups to which they belong
  • physical capital is understood as income, property and assets that can be used to increase recovery options (e.g. paying for treatment, detox, relocating, etc)
  • human capital includes skills, and personal resources, such as coping mechanisms, resilience, hope, and positive aspirations towards a ‘good life’. Such capital is often linked to higher educational attainment and positive problem-solving skills that aid the recovery journey
  • cultural capital includes pro-social values, beliefs and attitudes that can promote and sustain recovery and enhance social conformity and rule compliance.

The paper explores the potential contribution of recovery capital to desistance, but also the ethos, values, practices, and institutional processes likely to enable the delivery of recovery capital. The key new (to me at least) concept introduced in this paper is “Justice capital”, defined as the role that justice organisations/institutions, and more specifically staff, provide in ‘supporting or suppressing’ access to the required capital for desistance, particularly for marginalised groups. The key point here is that the definition of recovery capital is extended to include the recognition that systemic disadvantage (possibly including the current situation when neither the prison nor probation services in England and Wales are able to offer access to expected levels of support because of their chronic under-staffing levels).

Socio-ecological framework

The authors introduce a framework (reproduced below) which demonstrates how the context that individuals find themselves in can be supportive, or condemnatory, of offending behaviour. Negative features may exacerbate risk factors while positive ones are likely to reinforce protective factors. 

An entire system approach 

The authors emphasise that while the four levels of the socio-ecological framework exist independently of each other, they also combine in terms of impacts upon the individual. Individuals’ psychology and biology means that different people will take different desistance pathways. 
A whole systems approach emphasises the importance of the mechanisms through which it is delivered, in this case the criminal justice system and related partners.

The report highlights the key components of good justice capital (reproduced below). It is for readers to judge the extent to which our current justice system enables these critical success factors:

  • placing the service user at the centre of all activity; personalised and individualised service delivery; and listening to the ‘voice’ of the user
  • understanding the importance of the life course in service users’ lives, in terms of their journey into and out of offending behaviour, and recognising that all aspects of life, and therefore the service users’ journey, are intertwined
  • the importance of a trauma-informed understanding by staff, and the organisation as whole
  • positive values and beliefs of all staff, including the expectation of change, modelling of hope and aspiration, and enhancement of personal efficacy
  • the centrality of compassion as a concept in working with service users and in supporting staff in their daily activities
  • an awareness of the inherent structural inequities and discriminations in the system
  • commitment of all in the organisation to equitable and culturally relevant access to resources and services; more specifically, a commitment to reflect upon and adapt practices with individuals, groups or communities disadvantaged by the system because of gender, sex, race, ethnicity, neurodiversity, and/or mental health
  • partnership working to promote access to positive and safe groups and networks, and to initiate and sustain new services, and recognising the need to communicate with each other and be on the same page
  • the need for compassionate leadership that understands the challenges faced by service users, staff, the organisation, and partners, and which understands and allows for flexibility in responses, and trusts staff to do their jobs
  • a willingness to hold the system and all its employees and service users to account, and the ability to reflect upon, change, and respond to poor practice in a compassionate, understanding, and ethical way.

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