With many in-person services halted because of the COVID-19 pandemic, correctional agencies responsible for probation and parole have had to find new ways to help ensure people are receiving the help they need while also maintaining public safety.
These agencies, which traditionally rely on face-to-face interaction, serve some 6 million Americans by helping them find and maintain employment, attend substance-abuse treatments, ensure they are paying fines and don’t reoffend.
And considering these agencies are typically slow to change, the problem of how they can serve a large number of vulnerable people in new ways, and do so quickly, becomes incredibly complex, says Jill Viglione, an assistant professor in UCF’s Department of Criminal Justice.
That’s why Viglione is working on a National Science Foundation-funded project to find out how correctional agencies across the country have adapted their policies and practices during the pandemic. The researcher received a $105,467 Rapid Response Research award from NSF for the project, and the results will inform a website that will include effective strategies that agencies can look to now and in the future.
“In addition to providing data on innovations used across the country to help during the immediate crisis, we’re also working to develop the foundation for best practices for corrections agencies to use during future public-health crises,” Viglione says. “Correctional agencies are likely going to need to have pandemic-response plans going forward.”
Since Viglione studies organizational change in correctional agencies, she was interested to find out how they were dealing with the forced changes caused by COVID-19.
She says some of the ways agencies may have adapted include:
- completely shutting down their offices
- only bringing in people with a high-risk to reoffend
- supervising lower-risk individuals through video-conferencing services or other technologies
- suspending supervision fees.
To perform the study, the researcher and her team will survey people at community corrections agencies across the country using contact information collected by the team to form a national correctional-agency database.
They will also follow up the surveys with in-depth interviews of community supervision officers nationwide to better understand how working during the pandemic has affected them. Follow-up interviews with the officers will occur every 12 weeks during the course of the one-year study.
“I’m really excited about this research because this is an unprecedented time to explore the priorities of correctional agencies, how they make decisions, and how these decisions may impact the field for years to come,” Viglione says. “I don’t know that there will ever be a more interesting time to study change in an organization.”
Viglione received her doctorate in criminology, law and society from George Mason University, her master’s in criminology, law and society from Villanova University and her bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Quinnipiac University. She joined UCF’s Department of Criminal Justice, part of UCF’s College of Community Innovation and Education, in 2017.