Abstract: Innovative Community Corrections Practice: Positive Deviance (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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Innovative Community Corrections Practice: Positive Deviance

Friday, January 22, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Brent In, LCSW, Doctoral Student, Loyola University, Chicago, Morton Grove, IL
Background and Purpose

Reentry for returning citizens struggles with a dominant focus on high recidivism rates (Durose, Cooper, & Snyder, 2014). To study this issue, returning citizens who perceived themselves as having successfully reentered were interviewed to explore the lived experiences of reentry. As part of this broader study, federal probation officers who monitored post-conviction supervision cases were also interviewed. Their perceptions on the most effective supervision approach for returning citizens’ reentry success, to reduce recidivism, were studied. Findings point to need for innovative community supervision practices that are culturally sensitive and responsive to the returning citizens.


An interpretive approach (Hesse-Biber, 2010) was used to explore factors that impact long-term reentry success. Semi-structured qualitative interviews 60 to 120 minutes in length were conducted with 8 federal probation officers from the Eastern District of Missouri. Interviews were transcribed and Dedoose analysis software was used for text data analysis for themes. Codes were created, and through constant comparison and iterative reviews, sub-codes and links were created and merged.


Five main themes emerged from these federal probation officers: Successful Reentry, Important Factors to Assess, Factors that impede successful reentry, Supervision Service and Special Population. These findings both diverged from, and corroborated with, the findings from the returning citizens’ interviews. The federal probation officers were primarily focused on enforcing the court orders and sanctions, and implementing mandated supervision strategies. Even while aware how this diverged from the returning citizens’ real reentry needs, and suspect of effectiveness, officers viewed this as their primary duty. Corroboration with the returning citizens’ findings was in their privileging relational supports that promote reflective insights and spiritual realizations. Officers viewed this relational support for facilitating intrinsic motivation as important to reentry success, even though it strongly diverged from the mandated correctional policies and programs. Conclusively, an insight-oriented supervision approach, responding to the returning citizens’ cultural context was seen as important. Two distinct examples that deviated from the mandated approach were officers who willing to converse about spiritual transformation, or “awakening”, and weekly pick-up basketball games at a local gym with their cases. These two practices are prohibited for the federal probation system, but these officers positively deviated to build rapport and supportive relationships with their supervision cases.

Conclusion and Implications

Currently implemented evidence-based reentry programs are primarily focused on reducing recidivism and improving employability (Patterson, 2013; Mulhausen, 2015). The reentry outcomes can be improved by incorporating culturally informed strategies focusing on culturally birthed internal motivators that affect the process of long-term commitment to reentry progress. Meaning, if a returning citizen finds solace from God, then the conversation should be centered on that internal motivator. If building rapport with a young returning citizen is through games of pick-up basketball at a local gym, then that is where the probation officer should be. These positively deviant practices facilitate returning citizens to open up about their struggles, remain in treatments and trainings, and complete their supervision with positive gains lasting long after supervision.