“Out here I’m not living”: The challenges of staying on “the straight and narrow” post release in New Zealand

Dr Bronwyn Morrison1, Ms Jill Bowman1
1Department Of Corrections, Northland, New Zealand

In 2017, there were over 8,900 people released from New Zealand prisons. Of these, almost one fifth had spent at least 12 months in prison. On average, almost half of those released from prison reoffend within 12 months of their release, with the majority doing so within the first six months after leaving prison. To better understand what helps and hinders people to “go straight” following release, the Department of Corrections completed a small-scale longitudinal study in which 127 prisoners were interviewed a month prior to release. Of these, 97 were subsequently re-interviewed four to six months post release, and 38 were interviewed a third time a year following their original release. A striking finding from the research was the considerable challenges these people faced in pursuit of a “white-picket fence-kind-of-lifestyle” and the fact that, whilst not necessarily “getting on”, most were nevertheless “hanging in there” and desisting in the face of (often considerable) adversity. Drawing on all three rounds of interviews, this paper will discuss the key challenges people faced in “going straight”, how these were overcome, and with what effect. In doing so, it will consider the role “desistance identities” played in mitigating the “pains of desistance”, and identify the implications of this for future reintegration support and service delivery.


Bronwyn Morrison has a Ph.D in Criminology from Keele University, UK. She has worked in government research roles in New Zealand since 2005 and has worked for the Department of Conservation, New Zealand Police, and the Ministry of Justice. She joined Corrections’ Research and Analysis team in 2015 as a Principal Research Adviser. Bronwyn has conducted research on women, alcohol and crime, vehicle crime, bias in the criminal justice system, fear of crime and victimisation, family violence perpetrators, remand prisoners, and prisoners’ post-release experiences.

Jill Bowman has worked in Corrections’ Research and Analysis team for seven years following a variety of roles in both the private and public sector. She also volunteers at Arohata Women’s Prison, teaching quilting to women in the Drug Treatment Unit. Jill has conducted research on mental health and substance abuse comorbidity in prisoners, mental health services in women’s prisons, post release experiences of prisoners, and prisoners’ methamphetamine use and treatment experiences.


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