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Fusion and Reform

The Potential for Identity Fusion to Reduce Recidivism and Improve Reintegration

Harvey Whitehouse and Robin Fitzgerald

Recent theoretical advances in anthropology and group psychology suggest that sharing self-defining experiences creates identity fusion, a powerful form of social glue motivating prosocial action. Here, we present results of in-depth interviews with a sample of 31 former inmates of prisons in an Australian state and explore the theoretical implications of this work for interventions designed to reduce recidivism amongst ex-offenders. Our approach focusses on the implications of fusion theory both for desistance amongst released prisoners and for reinclusion into the community. We consider various ways in which existing interventions could be enhanced by applying this new theoretical knowledge and harnessing the bonding power of shared experience. We also point to features of current practice throughout the criminal justice system that encourage the adoption of inauthentic identities and thereby obstruct the potential for fusion to energise and embolden efforts at reform.