May 16, 2011
Professors Elaine Gunnison and Jacqueline Helfgott (right), Department of Criminal Justice, published in the April 2011 issue of the
“Factors that Hinder Reentry Success: A View from Community Corrections
Officers” in the International Journal of Offender
Therapy and Comparative Criminology.;it is also available as a podcast on iTunes. The article is the third in a series
of articles reporting results from a study of state and federal community
corrections officer perceptions of ex-offender reentry needs and challenges.This study represents one of the few to examine
the relationship between officer–offender social distance and perceptions of community corrections officers (CCOs).
Emerging literature in the correctional field suggests that ex-offenders
perceive CCOs as being socially distant from them and have doubt as to whether
CCOs are genuine in their attempts to assist the ex-offenders in reintegrating
back into the community.
“Ex-offenders face serious challenges to successfully reintegrating into
the community,” Gunnison said. “These include lack of employment opportunities,
housing, social and medical problems, and mental health issues. Clearly, successful reintegration of
ex-offenders into the community is critical in reducing recidivism. We asked
the question, ‘Does the perception of social distance play a role in the
success or failure of reentry.”
In their study, Gunnison and Helfgott found that
CCOs do understand offender needs and also believe that social distance is not
a hindrance to offenders’ successful reentry into their communities.
“It became clear that the dominant factors
hindering an ex-offenders successful re-entry into the community had more to do
with the day-to-day needs related to employment, housing, education, medical care,
family support, and substance abuse than with the attitudes of the community
corrections officers,” said Helfgott.
“However, the results also suggest that offenders’ beliefs about social
distance could hinder their reentry success.”
Gunnison and Helfgott recommend officer training
that addresses the social distance issue to improve officer–offender
interactions. Appropriate approaches to
respond to offender perceptions, needs, and challenges would most likely
strengthen offender–officer rapport in ways that will increase the likelihood
of reentry success.
The authors suggest that further research
explore solutions for reducing offender perception of social distance, examine
the role of officer–offender dynamics in reentry success and failure, and investigate
factors that hinder offender success.
Gunnison directs the M.A. in Criminal Justice program, and Helfgott chairs the Criminal Justice
Department, located in the College of Arts and Sciences. The College offers 33
undergraduate and 7 advanced degrees including a post-graduate Certificate in Crime Analysis and an M.A. in
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