By Steven Krolak
(NEW ALBANY, Ind.)–In an article in Corrections, the journal of the Corrections Division of the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences (ACJS), Dr. Jennifer Ortiz and her former student, Kimberly Wrigley ’19 write that community supervision inhibits successful re-entry.
Community supervision consists of a system of probation and parole, bolstered by monitoring and surveillance. For decades it has been viewed as an alternative to incarceration.
Yet the authors’ conclusion, based on data from a two-year exploratory study of reentry experiences, undercuts the avowed purpose and design of the practice.
“Contrary to its stated purpose of rehabilitation and reintegration, community supervision operates under mechanisms that hinder one’s ability to reenter society,” the authors wrote. “Supervision places the formerly incarcerated person within an invisible enclosure that mandates obedience to a system designed to ensure failure.”
The findings of Ortiz and Wrigley join a growing body of research that describes community supervision as an indirect and possibly direct driver of incarceration.
When forced to report to parole officers frequently, take part in structured programming (such as anger management training or substance abuse counseling) and remit fees for drug testing or legal aid, individuals under supervision find themselves facing a variety of “catch-22” decisions.
Ortiz and Wrigley used in-depth semi-structured interviewing to uncover more nuanced and often unexpected findings.
For example, that method revealed that some individuals are failing to fill prescriptions for psychotropic and other medications in order to pay parole fees.
“By utilizing qualitative data instead of quantitative data, I am able to develop a deeper understanding of the formerly incarcerated experience from those who are directly impacted by the criminal justice system,” Ortiz said.
For Ortiz and Wrigley, the data indicates a failure of reform.
“Probation and parole were supposed to be mechanisms that lowered the prison population and rehabilitated people,” Ortiz said. “However, as our data shows, these mechanisms are causing serious physical, psychological and emotional harm to the men and women placed on supervision.”
This situation directly results from decisions made within law enforcement and the legal system that prioritize control over rehabilitation as the desired end.
By extending mechanisms of control beyond the prison walls and into the community, law enforcement has essentially created an invisible enclosure, the authors argue.
“Docility and control should not be the primary goal of community supervision,” the authors noted. “We must reform community supervision to allow the formerly incarcerated to break free from the chains that bind them to the carceral continuum.”
The “carceral continuum” refers to the work of French thinker Michel Foucault, who first described the movement away from the body to the soul of the offender.
Ortiz and Wrigley collected data between 2016 and 2018, including 27 in-depth semi-structured interviews with formerly incarcerated persons and ten with re-entry service providers in the Kentuckiana area. The interviews were transcribed into AtlasTi, a qualitative data analysis software that enabled the researchers to search for codes and themes across all interviews. They also used the listening guide strategy, a process that yields different information from multiple readings. Finally, they employed coding and thematic analysis.
According to Ortiz, Wrigley was “an amazing research assistant.”
Wrigley traveled to interview sites with Ortiz and took notes of the interviews conducted by Ortiz, eventually asking her own questions. She transcribed the interviews and became proficient in analysis using the AtlasTi software. Finally she wrote the bulk of the literature review, assisted with the findings and edited the entire first draft of the article.
“Kimberly truly earned her spot as second author,” Ortiz said.
Ortiz chose to submit the article to Corrections because the publication is read not only by academics but also by practitioners who are in a position to make real changes.
“When we help one person overcome their obstacles, we not only save their life, literally and figuratively, but we make our communities safer and more just by reducing incarceration,” Ortiz said. “It’s a win-win for everyone involved.”
Homepage photo: Dr. Jennifer Ortiz.