The COVID-19 pandemic brought with it many challenges, but a UCF researcher and her team are finding silver linings by using the experience to help correction agencies develop new guidelines for probation and parole supervision during viral pandemics.
The work can help ensure people on probation and parole get the help they need while also maintaining public safety.
Jill Viglione, an associate professor in the Department of Criminal Justice, is the principal investigator of the new project, which is funded by a three-year, $670,000 grant from the U.S. National Science Foundation.
The team’s findings will be readily accessible and disseminated via the American Probation and Parole Association (APPA) to better inform and prepare community supervision agencies moving forward.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, community supervision agencies were forced to drastically adapt policies and best practices to address public safety goals for supervising those on probation or parole while reducing the spread of COVID-19. This included supervision through virtual meetings to maintain social distance.
Some of Viglione’s previous research examined the pandemic’s impact on community supervision agencies from 2020 through 2022 and provided foundational research on how agencies and officers adapted. However, she says one of the greatest challenges they faced was a lack of clear and consistent guidelines — the impetus for this project.
“Much of my research identified significant changes to practice and lessons learned from the pandemic, so we need that next step to look at some of the long-term impacts of these changes on supervision outcomes — like trends in violations, successful and unsuccessful completions — as well as taking what agencies learned about the ways they could adapt supervision in order to create specific and evidence-informed guidelines,” Viglione says. “The goal is that these data-driven guidelines we develop are really going to help agencies be better prepared to respond to future health emergencies.”
The project is a collaboration between Viglione, researchers at George Mason University — including co-principal investigator Faye Taxman — and experts at APPA. The team will operate with a three-pronged approach. Beginning in July, they will convene a work group of experts in the probation and parole field, as well as infectious disease and medical experts, to help provide insight.
Next, the project will move into case studies involving three different jurisdictions as identified with the assistance of the work group. In each jurisdiction, the team will survey and interview community supervision clients, officers and administrators. The researchers will also look at administrative data to examine trends in outcomes — before, during and post-pandemic — based on what changes were made and their resulting impacts.
“We’re going to analyze all of this information and data to create findings reports from each case study, and then bring them to the expert work group for feedback that will help inform the project’s two main deliverables: a database of successful practices and policies throughout the pandemic as well as the new evidence-based guidelines themselves,” Viglione says.
In conjunction with the guidelines, APPA will convene a new core committee on health and safety. The team’s findings will also branch out to other topics related to the health and safety of community supervision clients and staff, further informing conversations surrounding national health inequities.
Viglione says her team’s research could also provide insight into the implications of reform-related changes in community supervision that have been discussed but often met with resistance. That includes possible incorporation of technology like virtual meetings with clients under supervision beyond the pandemic.
“It’s not the main goal, but there are some potential indirect benefits in that our findings will be able to inform some ideas for reform that could be linked to some of the bigger problems in community supervision,” she says. “For example, a lot of directors and officers really liked using technology and virtual meetings, but they wanted to know if there was empirical support for doing this beyond when we had to do it during the pandemic.”
She says her ultimate hope is that their findings will be used to make progress in the field, both in how policies related to public health and safety are organized and how they could also serve as change agents for reform.
“Learning from the perspective of everybody involved really has the potential to improve the field not only by informing empirical-based guidelines but also by adding to the growing conversation surrounding reform in the system,” Viglione says.
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