Intervention Research with Community Supervision Populations: Opportunities for Impact in the Criminal Justice System
While community supervision presents itself as an opportunity to engage in positive change, criminal justice populations bear a disproportionate burden of risk factors, which complicate the levels and types of rehabilitative services needed. The prevalence of serious mental illnesses, substance abuse, HIV and other STIs, and trauma is significantly higher among those involved in the criminal justice system. These issues, combined with structural factors associated with racial and economic disparities, increase the risk for individuals to violate the conditions of their supervision, leading to incarceration. In this sense, community supervision, for many, becomes nothing more than a waiting room for jail or prison.
For these reasons, individuals under community supervision represent a population in desperate need of interventions that address their complicated needs, both for recidivism reduction and for overall health promotion and rehabilitation. Probation, parole, and alternative to incarceration programs thus offer prime opportunities for social work intervention research.
The three papers in this symposium illustrate the potential impact of intervention research on individuals under community supervision. The first paper presents findings from a pilot trial of a newly developed intimate partner violence (IPV) screening tool (WINGS), which enhanced the identification of IPV and connection to appropriate services. The fact that nearly half the study sample had experienced IPV in the past year highlights the importance of addressing this type of trauma among justice-involved women. Second is an in-depth examination of a key relationship in specialized probation interventions targeting people with serious mental illness – the relationship between probationer and probation officer. The study builds our understanding of the relational components that enhance the rehabilitative function of probation, which has the capacity to improve criminal justice and mental health outcomes for persons with mental illness. The third and final paper reports outcomes from a randomized controlled trial of a multimedia HIV prevention intervention (WORTH), the first such intervention to be tailored to the unique needs of women under community supervision. The efficacy of this intervention holds real promise to address the HIV epidemic among one of its hardest-hit populations.
The papers in this symposium embody innovative approaches to address the complexity of the community supervision population. These studies advance the empirical knowledge base on an understudied and vulnerable segment of the criminal justice population. Findings emphasize the key role of social work intervention research in addressing both public health and public safety outcomes.