The life-stories of young adult men in the criminal justice system
: a critical narrative analysis

  • Kerry Josephine Marie Ellis Devitt

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Over the past 10 years, 18-25 year olds in the criminal justice system (CJS) have become a specific focal point for policy and practice. This has given rise to a new criminal demographic, that of the young adult offender (YAO), replete with its discourse of agerelated ‘needs’. Subsequently, a range of YAO services have emerged, each focussed on meeting those particular needs. The question is, though there are clear institutional understandings of what it means to be a young adult in the CJS, do these align with what YAO say about themselves? And if not, what might YAO services, and by extension YAO focussed policy, learn from this? This aim of this thesis was to explore exactly that.

Using a narrative approach, the life-stories of 10 young adult men in the CJS (aged 19-24) were explored. They were considered in terms of the particular stories told, the construction of identity, and how the narrative itself was shaped by the social world from which it was drawn. Importantly, and in line with the tradition of narrative criminology, consideration was given to how to these young men indicated future action through those narratives.

Findings showed significant investment in certain pro-social identities (e.g. law-abiding citizen, reformed character, moral individual), with indicators of future action observable through the (often desistance focussed) strategies for maintaining those identities. Interestingly though, even for those most invested in moving along desistance pathways, certain courses of criminal action were suggested to be likely if it fit within their habitus to do so. For example, in times when moral or ethical situations demanded particular, socially sanctioned responses.

Finally, from a policy point of view, the young men rejected a number of institutional understandings of them. For example, having a lack of maturity, being poor decisionmakers, and having impulsivity and emotion management problems. Instead, the young men portrayed themselves as emotionally intelligent, rational and measured. The implications are discussed.
Date of AwardMar 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Portsmouth
SupervisorFrancis Pakes (Supervisor)

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