Get Out And Stay Out: Parole Officer Empathy Training Coincides With Parolees Staying Out Of Jail

A new study shows a connection between parole officers participating in “empathy training” sessions and a measurable drop in their parolees’ recidivism rates.

According to Psych News Daily, a study published in PNAS on Monday showed the connection. It involved 216 probation or parole officers in what was described as “a large U.S. city.” The group of officers in the study is responsible for overseeing more than 20,000 adults on probation or parole.

The officers participated in what was described as “a 30-minute online exercise that was designed to affirm their sense of purpose, and enhance their understanding of the parolees’ perspectives.”

The report noted that 10 months after this “empathic supervision intervention,” recidivism rater for the parolees they worked with were reduced by 13 percent.

According to the article, the research team conducting the study designed an intervention that would make the officers more aware of “how they perceive outgroup versus ingroup behaviors.” The study sought to makes these officers less likely “to collectively blame an outgroup individual for the acts of their group.”

The exercise included questions like, “Why is it important for parolees and probationers [i.e. people on probation] to feel valued and respected?” It also asked each participant to write a letter to a future officer in training, offering tips on how to avoid the job becoming too impersonal, and how to “remember the humanity” in their work.

Those in the control group got a placebo exercise that focused on how officers can use technology to be better organized.

Remarkably, the 13 percent reduction figure held even after controlling for the officers’ race, gender, years of experience, and departmental division, with officers who did the empathy program showing significantly less “collective blame” towards people on parole or probation.

As the study authors noted, “These findings suggest that the relationships between parole officers and their parolees ‘are a pivotal entry point to combat recidivism rates.'” They also noted that “targeted psychological interventions such as these ‘can lead to long-term reductions in violations and recidivism.'”

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Written by Phil West