Supporting transitions to desistance and (re)integration: Recognising reintegrative ritual in everyday practices

D. Johns

University of Melbourne, School of Social & Political Sciences, diana.johns@unimelb.edu.au

Release from prison is typically disorienting, disruptive, uncertain, risky. Supporting people’s post-prison transitions towards desistance – and ultimately ‘reintegration’ – requires specialist skill, understanding and persistence. It often involves a gradual process of building hope and confidence, recognising and capitalising on opportunities for participation and acceptance. In this article I reflect on post-release practice and consider the implications of understanding the post-prison experience through the lens of liminality. From this ‘rites-of-passage’ perspective, release from prison is characterised as a phase of transition which requires some form of symbolic ritual to bring it to a close and mark the beginning of the post-liminal phase of reintegration. Ritual is the key to this transition. Without reintegrative ritual, the liminal phase can become a state of sustained exclusion. How then might practitioners make use of this understanding to work more effectively with released prisoners and help to bring about their reintegration? I draw on research into men’s experience of release from prison in Victoria, Australia, to explore what it means to connect with ex-prisoners in meaningful ways and to effectively support transitions from custody to the community. I conclude that by identifying ordinary everyday practices as powerfully symbolic reintegrative rituals, ex-prisoners (and those supporting them) can recognise the process of transformation as something real and measurable. This recognition allows for the celebration of ‘small successes’, key (the data reveals) to working with vulnerable groups such as ex-prisoners. Through this micro-process, and the gradual accretion of hope and confidence, the path to (re)integration begins to unfold.

Biography

Diana spent 2015 doing postdoctoral research on young people’s prolific offending in Wales, UK. Her PhD research (University of Melbourne, 2013) focused on men’s experience of release from prison from the perspective of ex-prisoners and post-release support workers. In 2016 Diana has been writing a book based on her PhD research for the Routledge International Series on Desistance and Rehabilitation. Since 2012 she has taught in the Justice and Legal Studies program at RMIT University, Melbourne, where she maintains a research presence. Diana’s research interests include post-prison reintegration and vulnerable populations’ experience of criminal justice processes.

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