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Study: When parole, probation officers choose empathy, returns to jail decline

[ – 4/1/21]

Heavy caseloads, job stress and biases can strain relations between parole and probation officers and their clients, upping offenders’ likelihood of landing back behind bars.

On a more hopeful note, a new study from the University of California, Berkeley, suggests that nonjudgmental empathy training helps court-ordered supervision officers feel more emotionally connected to their clients and, arguably, better able to deter them from criminal backsliding.

The findings, published March 29 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, show, on average, a 13% decrease in recidivism among the clients of parole and probation officers who participated in the UC Berkeley empathy training experiment.

“If an officer received this empathic training, real-world behavioral outcomes changed for the people they supervised, who, in turn, were less likely to go back to jail,” said study lead and senior author Jason Okonofua, an assistant professor of psychology at UC Berkeley.

The results are particularly salient in the face of nationwide efforts to reduce prison and jail populations amid a deadly pandemic and other adversities. The U.S. criminal justice system has among the highest rates of recidivism, with approximately two-thirds of incarcerated people rearrested within three years of their release and one-half sent back behind bars.

“The combination of COVID-19 and ongoing criminal justice reforms are diverting more people away from incarceration and toward probation or parole, which is why we need to develop scalable ways to keep pace with this change,” said Okonofua, who has led similar interventions for school teachers to check their biases before disciplining students.

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I hope probation/parole officers will get updated training that will emphasize the benefits highlighted in this study.

In Georgia at least, I think it’s a bit more likely that probation and parole were consolidated for supervision purposes, and the officer rating system leaned more toward the parole side where a “successful” officer wasn’t determined by the number of people returned to prison (leading to violations for stupid hyper-technical or conflicting rules).

My probation officer here in bako told my wife of then 14 years that she would put money that by the end of probation we would be divorced! My wife said uh I don’t think so. The offense is not the man I know. I know the man and the offense was a terrible screw up but it doesn’t define him! In July we will be married for 35 years

Congratulations on 35 years! Hope you go 35+ more!

Admittedly, after a very rocky start (six months), a positive relationship (a total of eighteen months) was engendered with my probation officer while I lived in CT. However, most of the C.O.’s and parole/probation officers that have been encountered have been like Joe Mena: an individual who deems him/herself a great “manipulator” and whose job it is to further mete out punishment.

Connecticut probation officer moonlights on “Survivor,” stokes flames of controversy (

Perhaps this study will prompt a shift in training and general mindsets towards registrants. Perhaps…

Most POs are God-complected former cops that turned out to be miserable failures as such or cop wannabes who can’t meet physical fitness requirements.

And if he’s making THAT much money as a PO, I guarantee he’s taking bribes and getting kickbacks from someone (polygraphers and treatment providers, in all likelihood).

U got lucky

How about that, my probation officer said essentially the same thing. “You’re still married?” was the way he put it. My wife and I are still going strong, and I divorced that “man” at probation over five years ago!

I think they use it as a way to gain power over and demean those under their supervision. Mine was on a power trip and probably secretly hoped to catch the next super villain and make a name for himself.

A good thought and personal tribute to my first parole agent in the 95-7 timeframe. What a wonderful person she was! I was on parole for 15 months, by month 4 our contact was her letting me cook her and hubby Saturday breakfast at Zoms where I’d found employment. She did all the paperwork. I believe she’s with her God now.

I was very blessed to have the probation officer I had. He never saw me as a danger, maybe at first when we met he probably had doubts since I wasn’t the only one he had as a client with a sex offense. However, he never switched me to another officer, I always checked in with him he checked in on me, always asked about how my children and wife were doing as well as what updates I had for him. Even though since my release I have been able to find work and now I work for a Union,… Read more »

Probation and parole officers should do what takes to help a person re enter society. However the rules need to be attained to that as an overall goal. A person who has a record has a harder time finding a job and housing. More money should be spent on those resources than sending someone back to prison.

you guys was lucky, i had a state parole agent who had an extreme bias against S.O.s, and he tried his best to trip me up every chance he got, but i never gave the prick the satisfaction of sending me back…it was a very long, trying seven year tale for me.

Both of my federal probation officers were reasonable. I wouldn’t say either was exactly empathetic, but they didn’t act like complete jerks. The second woman was more talkative than the first. Although I didn’t mind slightly longer conversations since they were substantive and not just random conversations for the sake of meeting some quota. Which in talking with others on federal supervised release and those on county probation is about the best that can be hoped for.

Probation in riverside county wasn’t to bad when I turned 18 I took a plea deal for 3 years probation for some reason in riverside county they would switch my PO officer every 3 months after a year of different PO I started noticing their routine and how they operated which was very Important because I never actually lived where they thought I did how the hell I pulled that off for 3 years and never got cought is beyond me. My registering address and the address I gave my PO was in riverside county but me my girlfriend/victim her… Read more »

I literally did more time in prison on parole violations (not new crimes) than my actual offense. One violation was for possession of something a judge specifically said I could maintain possession of (I didnt have money for attorney to challenge it). CDCR then tried to illegally extend my parole period by an additional year, of which I had to borrow money for legal representation that quickly overrode that.

i Was on parole for 3 yrs and had about 7 different parole officers. All were ok except for the last one (supervisor) who took me on my last 3 months. He just couldnt accept I was a worker, law abiding, a family man and a home owner at that. At that time the Parole Dept. was making cut backs and they started using these cheap testing kits that were giving false positives for PCP and Meth, sadly to say several parolees were violated for these false positives. I tested positive as well and he threaten me that he would… Read more »

I’m willing to bet he was a former DOC employee who would plant contraband in inmates’ area of control so he could write a major misconduct to take away disciplinary credits and be denied parole.

As a matter of fact while he was telling me that he was gonna violate me, there in the office 2 of my ex-parole officers happen to be there who knew exactly what was going on and that drugs were never a problem under their supervision and looking from a distance they shook their heads at him in disgust behind his back as if they knew of his diabolical ways but really couldn’t intervene bc he was the supervisor. That in itself is what triggered me in getting tested immediately after at a testing facility. From that point on I… Read more »

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