The Prevailing Narratives of Formerly Incarcerated Women Living in Post-Release Communities

Orchard, Amelia
Buttle, John
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Master of Arts
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Auckland University of Technology

Whilst the research into desistance in New Zealand (NZ) has grown steadily over the last 30 years, little has been done on the role of Post-release Communities, particularly as it pertains to formerly incarcerated women. Exploring the prevailing narratives of women in Post-release Communities are important to help understand what formerly incarcerated persons consider relevant in their desistance journeys. Gaining more understanding of this subgroup will help highlight both the similarities and the differences that may exist compared to the findings of most of the current desistance research which has a predominantly male bias. This study investigates the narratives of ten formerly incarcerated women living at the Grace Foundation, a Post-release Community in NZ and how the findings compared to the current literature. That is, are the residents’ narratives comparable to well-known desistance narratives. One-on-one interviews were undertaken around how they perceived their desistance journeys with their stage of desistance evaluated by identifying the prevalent scripts - redemption and condemnation. Through the framework of Narrative Criminology and utilising narrative inquiry to collect, analyse and interpret the narratives, their overarching narrative was that of redemption. The residents' predominant focus was on building their pro-social identities, giving back through generativity, and wanting to resort back to their previous roles as mothers, all whilst being cognisant of the need to prioritise their personal development. The residents' identity narratives also reflected the impact of the Grace Foundation and the efficacy of this extrinsic support in their desistance. Overall, the findings of this study confirm results presented in the existing literature while introducing two additional variables – that of the importance of reconnecting with their culture and the importance of their roles as mothers as predictors towards effective desistance. A greater understanding of their narratives offers the chance to establish, consolidate and hone practices and systems suitable for promoting and maintaining desistance, both within, and external to, the Criminal Justice System in NZ.

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