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Empathy is one of humanity’s best qualities. It helps the world connect with one another while spreading positivity, hope, and acceptance. Thus, using it as a tool to rehabilitate parolees and law offenders instead of ignorantly marginalizing and alienating them will aid in creating a better society. A UC Berkeley study even revealed that the probation and parole officers’ empathy training reduced 13% of their parolees’ recidivism rates.

Breaking the prison to prison cycle

The study’s main goal was to shed light on the prison-to-prison cycle that often takes place in the US and many other countries around the world. Thus, it investigated the probation or parole officer role in this cycle. It also wanted to determine the significance of the relationship between the parole officers and their parolees. 

Therefore, the research was designated in the form of studying the effects of an empathic supervision intervention. This intervention aims to raise the officer’s awareness on the way they often preserve the outgroup, as a whole, vs the way they preserve the ingroup behavior. Moreover, it hopes to reduce the prejudice that leads officers “to blame an outgroup individual for the acts of their group.”

The research studied 216 parole officers with 45% White, 42% Black, 8% Hispanic, 1% Asian, and 3% other. Furthermore, these officers oversee the actions of more than 20,000 formerly incarcerated individuals. They were randomly separated into two groups. Each group was assigned a different kind of intervention. The first group underwent empathy training while the other took part in training that utilizes technology for better organization. 

Noticeable change with major consequences

The study reveals a significant reduction in re-activism after ten months. Thus, the percentage of individuals violating their probation or parole terms decreases by 13 percent. Moreover, these numbers didn’t change even after controlling for the officers’ race, gender, years of experience, and departmental division. Additionally, the study also discovers a decrease in prejudice and “collective blame” for parolees. 

Therefore, such discoveries didn’t only prove the significance of having a good relationship between officers and serving offenders but also the cruciality of eliminating previous prejudice. 

“Our findings support the notion that the default mindset in criminal justice settings may be punitive, as opposed to rehabilitative or empathic,” said Kimia Saadatian, co-author of the study, in an email. “Criminal justice policy can benefit from putting systems and structures in place to provide officers an opportunity to get to know and build meaningful relationships with the adults on probation or parole who they supervise.”

On the other hand, the study also sheds the light on the economic value of an empathy intervention. According to the US Bureau of Justice, public corrections agencies, such as prisons, jails, parole, and probation, cost almost $80.7 billion in 2017. Hence, empathy intervention can not only save families and lives but also a tremendous amount of money. “Beyond scientific theory, the effect of this brief intervention could translate to less in taxpayer costs per year across the country,” added the study.

The need for wise interventions

The study further advocates the necessity of wise interventions. This kind of intervention is vital to “produce lasting effects on real-world and consequential behavioral outcomes,” states the study. “These findings provide evidence that beyond other structural challenges, like race and unemployment or mental illness, relationships among PPOs and APPs are a pivotal entry point to combat recidivism rates, and targeted focus on psychological processes, such as curbing collective blame in PPOs can lead to long-term reductions in violations and recidivism from probation and parole.”

In the past, governments used such interventions to improve many recurring social issues such as teen pregnancies, inadequate parenting, voter turnouts, and many others. Though wise interventions are often associated with the stigmatized or the negatively affected group, these interventions are, in this case, linked to the gatekeepers. Parole officers are the ones in the position to set the tone of the relationship. They are the ones who can change the context in a way that determines better outcomes for all sides. 

“The present research,” indicates the authors, “is proof of this concept and that it can work in a scalable manner.”

“If a targeted shift in dozens of officers’ mindsets can cause thousands of individuals to not return to jail in a single year,” they conclude, “then there is potential for lasting effects on other pervasive and pivotal issues in criminal justice and beyond.”

References:

Chang, S. (2021, April 6). UC Berkeley study finds empathy training reduces recidivism rates. The Daily Californian. https://www.dailycal.org/2021/04/05/uc-berkeley-study-finds-empathy-training-reduces-recidivism-rates/Heingartner, D., PsychNewsDaily Staff, PsychNewsDaily Staff, & Heingartner, D. (2021, April 9). Parole officer “empathy training” leads to a 13% drop in parolees’ reoffending rates. PsychNewsDaily. https://www.psychnewsdaily.com/parole-officer-empathy-training-leads-to-a-13-drop-in-parolees-reoffending-rates/Okonofua, J. A. (2021, April 6). A scalable empathic supervision intervention to mitigate recidivism from probation and parole. PNAS. https://www.pnas.org/content/118/14/e2018036118#sec-2a