Probation and Parole Practices Research Paper

This sample Probation and Parole Practices Research Paper is published for educational and informational purposes only. If you need help writing your assignment, please use our research paper writing service and buy a paper on any topic at affordable price. Also check our tips on how to write a research paper, see the lists of criminal justice research paper topics, and browse research paper examples.

Community supervision involves the monitoring of offenders living in the community, either following an institutional sentence or in lieu of incarceration. Historically offenders have been supervised via monitoring of “conditions” they must meet (i.e., obtaining or maintaining employment, reporting any changes in address/employment, abstaining from drugs and/or alcohol) and perhaps referral to community agencies for substance abuse treatment or other types of treatment. Research into the effectiveness of these strategies has been limited but for the most part suggests little to no impact on recidivism rates. At the same time, emerging research has suggested a new model of supervision (Risk-Need-Responsivity), which focuses on risk of recidivism, offender needs directly related to recidivism, and individual offender issues. Importantly, part of the changing focus has been on the specific officer-offender interaction and how officers might incorporate cognitive behavioral and social learning principles into their work. Additionally, research has focused on incorporating the principles of motivational interviewing (MI) in criminal justice supervision. The potential impact of this supervision model has been promising, with initial studies suggesting 25-50 % relative reductions in recidivism for some strategies. However, the implementation of these strategies has been challenging, both from an organizational standpoint and the specific training of individual officers. As these are skill-based strategies, it is likely that significant training, coaching, and follow-up are needed in order for officers to become competent in the skills. A number of additional issues have yet to be researched, including which offenders might benefit most from the strategies, how strategies are best learned/incorporated into practice, and optimal levels of use of the various strategies.


Community supervision is a broad term that has been used to capture work done by probation and parole officers within a community setting. Offenders on probation have generally served little to no time in an institution, instead being allowed to remain in the community. In contrast, offenders on parole have received institutional sentences but are released early and allowed to complete their sentences in the community. In both instances, offenders are supervised by an officer and are required to abide by certain “conditions” such as obtaining or maintaining employment, reporting any changes in address/ employment, abstaining from drugs and/or alcohol, and not committing additional crimes. Offenders may be supervised for varying lengths of time (several months to several years or more) and may be required to report to an officer with varying frequency (i.e., weekly, monthly, or less). Traditionally, the primary mission of community supervision officers has been to monitor the behavior of offenders under their watch, to ensure they abide by any conditions imposed and remain law abiding. If violations occur, supervision may be revoked and the offender sent to an institution.

The effectiveness of community supervision in reducing recidivism has been called into question, with numerous studies suggesting that traditional approaches to supervision have little or no impact on recidivism rates (such as Bonta et al. 2008). At the same time, criminal justice research has focused on learning “what works” with offenders and has distilled this knowledge into what has become known as the Risk-Need-Responsivity (RNR) model (see most recently Andrews and Dowden 2007). Risk involves focusing on those offenders most likely to recidivate, Need incorporates identifying the specific factors related to reoffending, and Responsivity involves delivering treatment and interventions in an individualistic way. A large body of research has indicated that implementation of the RNR model can significantly impact recidivism rates (see Andrews and Bonta 2010 for a review of this research and Lowenkamp et al. 2010 for a review of its application to supervision based programs). A recent meta-analytic review (Andrews and Bonta 2010) demonstrated that adherence to all three principles leads to the greatest reductions in recidivism, while nonadherence with these principles leads to increases in recidivism. Unfortunately, analysis of conversations between officers and offenders demonstrated there was little adherence to the RNR model (Bonta et al. 2008).

The Importance Of The Officer-Offender Interaction

To date most research and meta-analyses have focused on the translation of Risk-NeedResponsivity (RNR) into formal treatment programs, with little emphasis on how the model should be implemented within the officer offender interaction itself, nor what occurs during the actual contact between an officer and offender. In fact, research on officer-offender interactions has suggested that officers focus on monitoring versus changing behavior, and training of officers has typically focused on understanding local laws, policies, and procedures. However, beginning in the early 1990s, more emphasis has been placed on the content of officer-offender interactions, beginning with a focus on risk assessment. Since that time, there has been a move from the traditional monitoring role of community supervision agents to a change-oriented role. The shift has been informed by social learning theory and cognitivebehavioral research on effective ways to engage people in behavior change, as well as research on the nature of helping relationships. Social learning theory emphasizes that people learn not only from their own experiences but also by observing the behavior and resulting consequences of other people’s behavior, whether it be actual behavior seen, a description of behavior/consequences, or what they see in television, movies, etc. Additionally, social learning theory notes that the internal rewards someone may experience (pride, satisfaction, etc.) may be just as important, or even more important, than rewards received from others. This focus on the internal thought processes coincides with cognitive behavioral theory, which emphasizes that our behavior is a result of our thoughts and feelings about an event, rather than the external event itself. Under this theory, behavior change occurs when someone focuses on their internal analysis of an external event (what I thought, how I felt) and the active changing of those thoughts and resultant feelings. Finally, such behavior change must occur within the context of an empathic helping relationship. The translation of these theories into the criminal justice arena has resulted in what has become known as Core Correctional Practice (CCP) (e.g., Andrews and Dowden 2004). These practices include areas such as focusing on high-risk situations (likely to lead to criminal behavior) and analysis of cognitions that support criminal behavior. For example, trained officers frequently respond to positive drug screens by examining the antisocial thoughts of the offender (“I can get away with it,” “I won’t be tested soon,” or “I’m not hurting anybody”) and working collaboratively to identify thoughts that reduce the likelihood of the behavior in future high-risk situations. Likewise, the CCP-trained officer looks to identify cognitive responses to prosocial behavior. Trained officers reinforce prosocial behavior by moving beyond simplistic verbal praise (i.e., “good job”), instead asking the offender to identify immediate and long-term internal and external rewards. Identifying the cognitions (“my kids are going to be proud of me,” “if I continue to do this I can build toward what I really want”) that support the prosocial behavior helps develop meaningful thoughts that can be used in future high-risk situations. The CCP-trained officer also focuses on teaching offenders skills using a structured and graduated learning process complete with rehearsal and practice. Finally, in addition to the special attention paid to the thinking of the offender, the CCP-trained officer deliberately builds a working alliance that focuses on the acquisition and development of skills that reduce risk in potentially risky situations. Utilizing these types of interventions can fundamentally change the work of probation officers. The traditional case management approach, whereby the officer “manages” the case through monitoring and referral, is transformed to one where the officer is now a “change agent” (Bourgon et al. 2011). In this new role, officers actively work to facilitate the change process through their interactions with offenders, rather than relying on interventions by other professionals.

Research on the impact of these behaviorally based interactions is promising. Trotter (1996) found that using empathy, problem-solving, and a prosocial approach reduced recidivism. Taxman (2004) outlined a process of proactive community supervision (PCS) which focused on comprehensive assessment, case planning, setting clear expectations, reinforcement, desistance, and the use of behavioral contracts. Recidivism rates of offenders supervised by those trained in this model were about 30 % (relative risk) lower than offenders supervised by officers not trained in PCS. Bonta (2010) utilized the Strategic Training Initiative in Community Supervision (STICS) curriculum to teach and evaluate CCP by categorizing various officer actions/techniques into four areas: structuring skills includes items such as “checking in” with the offender, reviewing homework, and prioritizing needs; relationship building includes skills such as role clarification, active listening, and effective feedback; behavioral techniques focus on modeling, the effective use of reinforcement and disapproval, problem solving, and self-management skills; and cognitive techniques, including specific targeting of procriminal attitudes, the application of a behavioral model, and cognitive restructuring. Officer training in these skills included a 3-day training followed by monthly maintenance sessions which allowed officers to discuss the use of skills, receive feedback on their use of skills, and provide “refresher” training. Officers trained in STICS used the skills more often, and their offenders had lower recidivism rates, than those officers who did not receive training. Subsequent studies using STICS have found similar increases in officers’ focus on procriminal attitudes, the use of cognitive interventions, and subsequent lower recidivism rates. A similar curriculum, Staff Training Aimed at Reducing Rearrest (STARR), has also been developed. The STARR skills include specific strategies for active listening, role clarification, effective use of authority, effective disapproval, effective reinforcement, effective punishment, problem solving, and teaching, applying, and reviewing the cognitive model. For each strategy, skill cards outline the specific activities officers need to do to successfully deliver the strategy. A fundamental focus for each skill is the internalization of strategies so that offenders begin to learn and apply the strategies on their own. Initial research on STARR demonstrated comparable results to STICS: officers used the skills significantly more than officers not trained in STARR, and offenders had a 50 % relative reduction in recidivism (Robinson et al. 2011). Importantly, in each of these studies, interactions remained relatively brief (around 20 min) yet still impacted outcomes.

In total, the research on the use of CCP by community supervision officers has spanned 15 years, three continents, and four very different locations with results consistently yielding a 25-50 % relative risk reduction in recidivism rates.

An additional area of officer training which has received significant attention is motivational interviewing (MI). MI is a communication style that involves strategic use of questions and statements to help clients find their own reasons for change (Miller and Rollnick 2002). MI borrows from client-centered counseling in its emphasis on empathy, optimism, and respect for client choice. MI also draws from self-perception theory, which says that people become more or less interested in change based on how they talk about it. Thus, an offender who talks about the benefits of change is more likely to make that change, whereas an offender who argues and defends the status quo is more likely to continue in the present behavior. Finally, MI is also logically connected to the Stages of Change model, which says that people go through a sequence of stages when considering change (Prochaska et al. 1992). Because MI is a communication style, it is usually introduced as a set of stylistic principles: (1) express empathy, which involves a sincere attempt to understand the offender’s point of view; (2) roll with resistance, which emphasizes avoiding arguments whenever possible and finding other ways to respond when challenged; (3) develop discrepancy, which means working to elicit the offender’s own reasons for change; and (4) support self-efficacy, which emphasizes positive language and an environment that is supportive of change. From its beginnings in addiction counseling, MI has been translated into a number of behaviorchange areas. MI currently has strong research support in areas such as alcohol and drug use, smoking cessation, medication compliance, HIV risk behaviors, and diet/exercise. Two meta-analyses of more than 70 MI outcome studies in different areas suggest an overall significant and clinically relevant effect (Hettema et al. 2005; Rubak et al. 2005).

Many criminal justice agencies have embraced the idea of MI, and numerous articles have been written encouraging its use by community corrections agencies (e.g., Alexander et al. 2008; Walters et al. 2007). However, few studies have focused on the effectiveness of MI within criminal justice settings. McMurran (2009) identified 13 published studies and six dissertation abstracts evaluating the use of MI within correctional settings, with only ten studies using randomized controlled trials. Due to the lack of studies and the significant variation within existing studies, McMurran concluded that “no overall definitive conclusion about the effectiveness of MI with offenders can be drawn.” A recent randomized trial of MI within a probation setting indicated no impact on outcome (Walters et al. 2010), though it is noted that the level of MI skill demonstrated by officers may have been below accepted proficiency levels.

Effective Implementation Of Core Correctional Practices

Despite the large body of research supporting the RNR model, and the emerging research on officer-offender interactions, the model has not yet become entrenched in the everyday practice of community corrections. The problem of translating research into practice is not something new; other behavioral fields (e.g., medicine, substance abuse, mental health) have experienced similar issues. As such, many have begun focusing on how to effectively implement practices so they do become routine. Klein and Knight (2005) suggest that six key factors will determine if an intervention is effectively implemented. These include (1) the quality and quantity of training; (2) a positive organizational climate; (3) administrative support; (4) financial resources; (5) learning orientation that supports staff skill development, competence, and growth; and (6) patience with the inevitable stumbling blocks that will occur during implementation. We focus on the issue of training, while noting that the other factors are equally important in leading to full-scale adoption of the practice.

Skills Training

Historically, training of officers has focused on brief (1–3 day) trainings with little to no followup. Unlike trainings focused on imparting knowledge (i.e., facts about substance use), the interventions noted above all involve the development of a new skill to be used. Research on skill development in practitioners has demonstrated that ongoing feedback and coaching is essential if new skills are to be translated into everyday practice. A review of implementation research consistently demonstrates that trainings focused simply on knowledge transfer, with no skill training or follow-up, do not lead to changes in everyday practice (Fixsen et al. 2005). For example, Joyce and Showers (2002) found that only 5 % of participants translated skill use from training to the practice environment if no follow-up was included, while 95 % of participants subsequently used the skills if they receive on-the-job coaching. Research specific to MI suggests that officers may go through as many as eight stages in learning MI (Miller and Moyers 2006). Failure to provide officers the necessary time and support to develop through these stages will likely lead to officers failing to become proficient in the skill. Preliminary research suggests that many officers who only receive workshop training and little or no follow-up/coaching do not meet minimum proficiency levels for MI (Lowenkamp 2010). Similarly, research on training in cognitivebehavioral therapy suggests that the use of follow-up/coaching is essential to increased knowledge and use of the skill (Cully et al. 2010). Importantly, it is noted that several studies of cognitive therapy have shown that outcomes improve as therapist skill level improves (Shafran et al. 2009).

Current Issues

The above research covers a number of different skills that could be used in a multitude of combinations. Consistent with the Responsivity aspect of the RNR model, all skills/interventions may not be needed by all offenders. Further research is needed to determine which skills/interventions may be critical for most, if not all, offenders and which skills may be less important. Additionally, interventions may be effective for some offenders, but not others. Further understanding the nuances in these skills will be critical to moving these practices forward. Similarly, it is unclear whether all officers can, or should, be able to learn all of these skills. Anecdotal evidence suggests that some skills, like MI, may be more difficult for officers to learn than others. Officer orientation, prior training, and experience will all likely influence an officer’s interest and ability to learn these skills.

Research in other areas suggests that having a mentor and participating in discussions with others regarding new practices is more likely to lead to integration of new techniques into daily practice (Cook et al. 2009), pointing to the importance of developing an environment of colleagues that support the new intervention. In order to ensure successful skill transfer from the classroom to the community, agencies must also have access to trainers who can provide not only classroom training but also on-the-job coaching (Cully et al. 2010; Miller et al. 2004). Additionally, agencies must provide staff with the time necessary to practice skills and receive feedback. In an era of budget cuts and increasing caseloads, it becomes difficult for officers to focus on spending time on skill development.

In order to determine effectiveness of these intervention skills, actual use of the skill must be documented. Two facets must be considered: adherence and competence. Adherence suggests that the skill is being done, while competence indicates how well the skill is performed. While such ratings can initially be done through roleplay situations, in order to be truly meaningful ultimately, the ratings must be on actual offender-officer interactions. Miller and Rose (2009) note “We know of no reliable and valid way to measure MI fidelity other than through the direct coding of practice samples. Clinicians’ self-reported proficiency in delivering MI has been found to be unrelated to actual practice proficiency ratings by skilled coders (Miller and Mount 2001; Miller et al. 2004), and it is the latter ratings that predict treatment outcome.” Coding of interactions can be accomplished through either direct observation or audio/videotaping of interactions. Only recently has the practice of audiotaping and coding interactions between officers and offenders been introduced (e.g., Bonta et al. 2008, 2010; Robinson et al. 2011). Prior to initiating audiotaping of interactions, several legal issues must be considered, including whether offenders have the right to refuse to be taped, who will have access to tapes, whether tapes will become part of an offender’s official record, and whether tapes can be used in future legal proceedings. Since the purpose of taping is the skill development of the officer, we strongly advocate for tapes being accessible only to the extent that they are needed and used for training purposes. If tapes become a part of the legal case against the offender, the ability to obtain tapes may become difficult, and the usefulness of tapes will likely be diluted.

Conclusions And Future Research

The impact probation officers can have through their direct intervention with offenders is promising and supports the transition from compliance monitoring case management to a more comprehensive approach focused on the development of new skills that reduce risk. This finding is important given the incredible costs of recidivism, the typical responses to it (prison), and the costs typically associated with treating offenders. In an environment with seemingly always decreasing resources, it is important that we maximize the resources we continue to have available to us. Intentional CCP-based officer-offender interactions may support offender learning and skill mastery that is occurring via formal treatment programs, or may be stand-alone interventions. The purposeful skill-focused interaction allows agencies to extend the therapeutic environment beyond the traditional and often less effective treatment setting. This is important given the number of hours typically necessary to facilitate the change process for many high-risk offenders and the ability of most agencies to meet the demand. In order to ensure that these promising practices become routine, there must be a significant focus on effective implementation. To date, it is unclear exactly how long skill development will take, how many coaching sessions should occur, etc. Future research needs to focus on delineating these issues so the field has a clear vision of how to achieve effective practice.


  1. Alexander M, VanBenschoten S, Walters S (2008) Motivational interviewing in criminal justice: development of a plan. Fed Probat 72(2):61–66
  2. Andrews DA, Bonta J (2010) The psychology of criminal conduct, 5th edn. LexisNexis, New Providence
  3. Andrews DA, Dowden C (2007) The risk-needresponsivity model of assessment and human service in prevention and corrections: crime-prevention jurisprudence. Can J Criminol Crim Justice 49:439–464
  4. Bonta J, Bourgon G, Rugge T, Scott T, Yessine AK, Gutierrez L, Li J (2010) The strategic training initiative in community supervision: risk-need-responsivity in the real world. Public Safety Canada, Ottawa. ISBN 978-1-100-15750-4
  5. Bonta J, Rugge T, Scott T, Bourgon G, Yessine AK (2008) Exploring the black box of community supervision. J Offender Rehabil 47(3):248–270
  6. Bourgon G, Gutierrez L, Ashton J (2011) The evolution of community supervision practice: the transformation from case manager to change agent. Ir Probat J 8:28–48
  7. Clark MD, Walters ST, Gingerich R, Meltzer M (2007) Motivating offenders to change: a guide for probation and parole. National Institute of Corrections, NIC Accession Number 022253
  8. Cook JM, Schnurr PP, Biyanova T, Coyne JC (2009) Apples don’t fall far from the tree: influences on psychotherapists’ adoption and sustained use of new therapies. Psychiatr Serv 60(5):671–676
  9. Cully JA, Teten AL, Benge JF, Sorocco KH, Kauth MR (2010) Multidisciplinary cognitive-behavioral therapy training for the veterans affairs primary care setting. Prim Care Companion J Clin Psychiatry 12(3)
  10. Dowden C, Andrews DA (2004) The importance of staff practices in delivering effective correctional treatment: a meta-analysis of core correctional practices. Int J Offender Ther Comp Criminol 48(2):203–214
  11. Fixsen DL, Naoom SF, Blase KA, Friedman RM, Wallace F (2005) Implementation research: a synthesis of the literature. University of South Florida, Louis de la Parte Florida Mental Health Institute, National Implementation Research Network, Tampa, http://nirn.fmhi.
  12. Hettema J, Steele J, Miller WR (2005) Motivational interviewing. Annu Rev Clin Psychol 1:91–111
  13. Joyce B, Showers B (2002) Student achievement through staff development, 3rd edn. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, Alexandria
  14. Klein KJ, Knight AP (2005) Innovation implementation: overcoming the challenge. Curr Dir Psychol Sci 14(5):243–246
  15. Lowenkamp CT (2010) Impact of motivational interviewing on offender outcomes: results from a pilot trial in US Probation. Unpublished data
  16. Lowenkamp CT, Flores AW, Holsinger AM, Makarios M, Latessa EJ (2010) Intensive supervision programs: does program philosophy and the principles of effective interventions matter? J Crim Justice 38(4): 368–375
  17. McMurran M (2009) Motivational interviewing with offenders: a systematic review. Leg Criminol Psychol 14(1):83–100
  18. Miller WR, Mount KA (2001) A small study of training in motivational interviewing: does one workshop change clinician and client behavior? Behav Cogn Psychother 29:457–471
  19. Miller WR, Moyers TB (2006) Eight stages in learning motivational interviewing. J Teach Addict 5:3–17
  20. Miller WR, Rollnick S (2002) Motivational interviewing: preparing people for change, 2nd edn. The Guilford Press, New York
  21. Miller WR, Rose GS (2009) Toward a theory of motivational interviewing. Am Psychol 64(6):527–537
  22. Miller WR, Yahne CE, Moyers TB, Martinez J, Pirritano M (2004) A randomized trial of methods to help clinicians learn motivational interviewing. J Consult Clin Psychol 72(6):1050–1062
  23. Prochaska JO, DiClemente CC, Norcross JC (1992) In search of how people change: applications to addictive behaviors. Am Psychol 47(9):1102–1114
  24. Robinson C, VanBenschoten S, Alexander M, Lowenkamp CT (2011) A random (almost) Study of Staff Training Aimed at Reducing Rearrest (STARR): reducing recidivism through intentional design. Fed Probat 75:57–63
  25. Rubak S, Sandboek A, Lauritzen T, Christensen B (2005) Motivational interviewing: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Br J Gen Pract 55(513):305–312
  26. Shafran R, Clark DM, Fairburn CG, Arntz A, Barlowe DH, Ehlers A, Freeston M, Garety PA, Hollon SD, Ost LG, Salkovskis PM, Williams JMG, Wilson GT (2009) Mind the gap: improving the dissemination of CBT. Behav Res Ther 47:902–909
  27. Taxman FS (2004) Tools of the trade: a guide to incorporating science into practice. Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services
  28. Trotter C (1996) The impact of different supervision practices in community corrections: cause for optimism. Aust N Z J Criminol 29(1):29–46
  29. Walters ST, Clark MD, Gingerich R, Meltzer M (2007) Motivating offenders to change: a guide for probation and parole. National Institute of Corrections, U.S. Department of Justice, Washington, DC
  30. Walters ST, Vader AM, Nguyen N, Harris TR, Eelsl J (2010) Motivational interviewing as a supervision strategy in probation: a randomized effectiveness trial. J Offender Rehabil 49:309–323

See also:

Free research papers are not written to satisfy your specific instructions. You can use our professional writing services to buy a custom research paper on any topic and get your high quality paper at affordable price.


Always on-time


100% Confidentiality
Special offer! Get discount 10% for the first order. Promo code: cd1a428655