College of Arts and Sciences


  • Criminal Justice Faculty Publish on Challenges Facing Ex-Offenders

    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 Criminal Justice.    


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