In the wake of the landmark Supreme Court decision Miller vs. Alabama, a variety of state laws have paved the way for the resentencing and potential release of “juvenile lifers.” Desistance theories pertaining to youth with histories of violent offending suggest that a blend of maturation, internal motivation and identity shifts, and opportunities to adopt and fulfill adult roles will lead to cessation of criminal behavior. Yet, these theories may not apply to young people serving life sentences, as they have limited opportunity to adopt adult responsibilities while imprisoned, less motivation to desist if freedom is not viewed as attainable and live in conditions in which criminal behavior and violence is often essential for survival. This qualitative study explored pathways to desistance behind bars for adult males (now aged 40–65), all of whom were convicted of a homicide offense at age 20 or under and were recently paroled under one of several California youth offender resentencing laws. The phenomenological design included two in-depth individual interviews and inductive thematic analysis. Analysis identified three patterns of desistance, all of which converged to core themes of moral reckoning, making meaning of life in prison, finding hope, and proving one’s worth for release. The results have implications for youth offender resentencing policies and theories of criminal desistance.

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