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Parole Officer ‘Empathy Training’ Leads to a 13% Drop in Offenders Returning to Jail


A new study suggests that empathy training for parole and parole officers helps deter their clients from reoffending.

Karsten winegeart

High caseloads, job stress, and biases can negatively affect relationships between these officers and their clients, leading to the likelihood of offenders falling behind bars again.

A positive psychology intervention developed by UC Berkeley suggests that non-judgmental empathy training helps court-appointed supervisory officers feel more emotionally connected to their clients, which the new study shows could deter them from recidivism criminal.

The findings, published last month in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, show, on average, a 13% decrease in recidivism among clients of probation and parole officers who participated in the empathy training experiment.

“If an officer received this empathic training, the real-world behavioral outcomes changed for the people they supervised, who, in turn, were less likely to go back to jail,” said study leader and lead author Jason Okonofua, assistant professor of psychology at UC Berkeley.

The results are particularly outstanding because the US criminal justice system has one of the highest recidivism rates, with approximately 66% of incarcerated individuals being re-arrested within three years of their release, and half go back to jail.

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Okonofua, who has led similar interventions for school teachers to review their biases before disciplining students, notes that “ongoing criminal justice reforms are moving more people away from incarceration and toward parole or parole, for so we need to develop scalable ways to keep pace with this change. “

At the invitation of a correctional department in a large East Coast city, Okonofua and graduate students in his laboratory at UC Berkeley sought to find out whether a more supportive approach by court-appointed supervisory officers would reverse trends in the recidivism.

For the study, the researchers surveyed more than 200 parole and parole officers who oversee more than 20,000 people convicted of crimes ranging from violent crimes to petty theft. They make sure their clients don’t miss a drug test or court hearing, and they provide resources to help them stay out of trouble and out of jail.

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Researchers designed and administered a 30-minute online empathy survey that focused on job motivation, biases, and officers’ views on relationships and responsibilities.

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To activate their sense of purpose and values, and tap into their empathy, the UC Berkeley survey asked what parts of the job they found fulfilling. One respondent talked about how, “When I come across these guys and they do well, I say, ‘Great!'” Others reported that being an advocate for people in need was the most important thing to them.

As for addressing biases, including assumptions that certain people are predisposed to a life of crime, the survey cited egregious cases in which probation officers abused their power over those under their supervision.

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Respondents were also asked to rate how much responsibility they, as officers and members of a profession, have for the transgressions of their peers. Most responded that they had no responsibility.

Courtesy of UC Berkeley

Ten months after administering the training, the researchers found a 13% decrease in recidivism among offenders whose probation and parole officers had completed the empathy survey. Investigation protocol bar that identifies the agency and its location.

While the study did not provide details on what prevented parolees and parolees from relapsing in the period following officer empathy training, the results suggest that a change in relationship dynamics played a key role. .

“The officer is in a position of power to influence whether it is going to be an empathic or punitive relationship in ways that the person on probation or parole is not,” Okonofua said. “As our study shows, the relationship between parole and parole officers and the people they supervise plays a critical role and can lead to positive outcomes, if efforts to be more understanding are considered.

Source: Yasmin Anwar / UC Berkeley

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