Encountering Correctional Populations: A Practical Guide for Researchers

Encountering Correctional Populations: A Practical Guide for Researchers

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While many researchers study offenders and offending, few actually journey into the correctional world to meet offenders face to face. This book offers researchers, practitioners, and students a step-by-step guide to effectively research correctional populations, providing field-tested advice for those studying youth and adults on probation, on parole, and in jails and prisons.
The book addresses topics such as how to build rapport with offenders and those who monitor them; how to select from the many types of correctional data that can be collected; how to navigate the informed consent process and maintain research ethics; and how to manage the logistics of doing research. With personal stories, “what if” scenarios, case studies, and real-world tools like checklists and sample forms, the authors share methods of negotiating the complexities that researchers often face as they work with those behind bars.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780520293571
Publisher: University of California Press
Publication date: 01/05/2018
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 216
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Kathleen A. Fox is Associate Professor in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Arizona State University.
Jodi Lane is Professor in the Department of Sociology and Criminology and Law at the University of Florida.
Susan F. Turner is Professor in the Department of Criminology, Law, and Society and Director of the Center for Evidence-Based Corrections at the University of California, Irvine.

Read an Excerpt




Over the years, the three of us have been actively involved in research with offenders and the people who attempt to control them through the correctional system. This means we often talk to offenders and others in the system and think about their lives. While many criminologists study offenders, offending, and its consequences, fewer actually journey into the correctional world. Indeed, this is not something that researchers are actively encouraged to do in some academic realms. Beyond our traditional doctoral studies, we received no formal training to prepare us for the exciting and challenging experiences associated with encountering correctional populations. Yet, along the way, we have learned for ourselves many valuable — and sometimes painful — lessons. Sometimes we learned them through trial and error, and other times we learned from researchers more experienced than we were. These are the kind of lessons that are generally absent from textbooks and graduate- level courses — the kind of lessons (or stories) that are often shared among scholars after hours over coffee or cocktails.

Our motivation for sharing these lessons in this book is to help equip people with the knowledge we have accumulated in our combined sixty-plus years of experience. We hope this book will encourage more people to do this kind of research by making it more approachable with fewer headaches. This book is particularly ideal for (1) scholars who are just beginning to conduct research with correctional populations, such as graduate students, faculty, and researchers, and (2) practitioners in correctional institutions interested in partnering with researchers to conduct research within their agencies or institutions. The book also is ideal as a supplemental text in graduate courses (e.g., general research methods, program evaluation, or corrections).


For those interested in understanding offenders and reducing crime (e.g., politicians, academicians, and practitioners), studying the sources of the problem — the offenders and the ways we currently attempt to change their lives — often sounds logical and practical. Yet despite the massive correctional population, it can be extremely challenging (yet critically important) to access both offenders and the correctional agencies that monitor them. The following excerpt by John Hepburn (2013, 2) perfectly highlights what it is like to "get dirty" with original data collection with correctional populations:

Primary data collection requires that we leave the relatively sanitized and disinfected environment of the university and the clean routines of our offices to enter into the world of those we study. Through primary data collection, we glimpse the setting of our research, hear the sounds of the prisons, inhale the smells of the jails, observe the passing of rule violators and rule enforcers alike. We observe everyday activities, we "feel" the levels of tension, mistrust, and hostility, and we gain insights into the complexities of the relationships within the organization and among its personnel. We celebrate the fact that we emerge from the correctional agency or police department with both the data we sought and a greater knowledge and understanding of the working and living conditions of those we are studying.

So, how does one do this kind of research?

This book takes a practical "nuts and bolts" approach to explaining how to do research with correctional populations while recognizing that there are substantial differences across correctional facilities and populations. The approaches we use in various situations and encounters are by no means exhaustive of the many appropriate and successful routes to navigating research in the correctional world. Rather, they are examples of the lessons we have learned personally as we have navigated our research projects in correctional environments over the years. Moreover, following the advice we outline in this book will certainly not guarantee that readers experience the same outcomes, challenges, and enjoyment we have over the years. As readers undoubtedly have experienced firsthand already, the real world is riddled with infinite surprises. Working with correctional populations is like most things in life: it is an adventure best enjoyed along the way, not just at the finish line.


A large number of people are under supervision within the correctional system, making this an important group of people for criminologists to study. At last count, nearly seven million people were incarcerated or under community supervision in the United States (Kaeble et al. 2015). Before talking about the nuts and bolts of doing field research in corrections, we discuss what statistics show about the different population groups that those interested in corrections might study.

Jails and the Jail Population

Jails incarcerate people in the "short term," meaning usually less than one year. Jails are often transient places because the average length of time people spend in jails is twenty-three days (Minton et al. 2015). There are approximately 3,000 local jails, a dozen federal jails, and 80 jails in Indian Country (Minton 2011). Jails incarcerate people who have been convicted of a crime and who are serving a short-term sentence as well as people who are not convicted (70 percent). Of the jail inmates who have been convicted, 22 percent are there for violent crime, 25 percent for property crime, 23 percent for drug crime, and 30 percent for public order offenses (Prison Policy Initiative 2016).

At last count, local jails in the United States admitted 12 million people over the course of one year, with an average daily population of three quarters of a million people (Minton et al. 2015). Nearly another 10,000 American Indians and Alaskan Natives were incarcerated in jails in Indian Country (Minton 2011). The majority of local jail inmates are adults age eighteen or older (99 percent). The juvenile population (under eighteen years old) within adult jails is very small (1 percent) and has been significantly decreasing since 1999. Of the juveniles who are incarcerated in jails, most are held while charged as adults (84 percent). The majority of jail inmates are men (86 percent), although the number of women in jails has been increasing since 1999. In terms of race, jails incarcerate 47 percent whites, 34 percent blacks, 16 percent Hispanics, 1 percent American Indians, and 2 percent other races (Minton et al. 2015).

Prisons and the Prison Population

Prisons incarcerate people on more of a long-term basis, meaning typically longer than one year — and sometimes for a lifetime. The average amount of time prison inmates are incarcerated is 38.5 months (Adams et al. 2010). Prisons are operated by each state, the Federal Bureau of Prisons, the U.S. military, and private companies. There are 1,821 prisons in the United States, 23 percent of which are private. Most are state-run, with the remaining 6 percent federal (Stephan 2008).

As of the end of 2014, there were more than 1.5 million people incarcerated in state and federal prisons, mostly in public prisons (91 percent). Of the men in prison, 37 percent were black, 32 percent white, and 22 percent Hispanic. Imprisonment differs greatly based on race, with 2.7 percent of all black males, 1.1 percent of all Hispanic males, and 0.5 percent of all white males in prison. A similar pattern appears for race for women as for men. The number of people in prisons has been decreasing slightly each year since 2007, and the changes since that year resulted in an overall 0.3 percent decrease over the time period (Kaeble et al. 2015). Rates of imprisonment vary greatly by state, and they have also decreased over the last decade. At last known count, 54 percent of people in prison in 2014 were serving time for violent offenses, 19.3 percent for property offenses, 15.7 percent for drug offenses, and 11 percent for public order offenders (e.g., weapons law violations and driving under the influence). About 8 percent of state and federal prison inmates were veterans, of which 99 percent were male (Bronson, Carson, and Noonan 2015).

Parole and Probation Population

The probation population is the largest group of people under correctional control. At the end of 2014, about 70 percent of the people under correctional control were supervised in the community, meaning on probation (56 percent) or parole. Since 2007 the overall number of offenders supervised in the community decreased due to declining numbers on probation, despite the increase in the number of people on parole. In 2014, there were about 4.7 million supervised offenders in the community (Kaeble et al. 2015). People on probation (75 percent) and parole (88 percent) were more likely to be male. Comparing probation to parole, there were more whites (54 percent vs. 43 percent, respectively) than blacks (30 percent vs. 38 percent), Hispanics (14 percent vs. 17 percent) or others (2 percent for both groups). In terms of offenses, probationers and parolees committed violent offenses (19 percent vs. 29 percent), property offenses (29 percent vs. 22 percent), and drug crimes (25 percent vs. 32 percent) (Herberman and Bonczar 2014).

Juvenile Facilities and Population

Although jails and prisons often have more common characteristics generally in terms of structure and design, juvenile correctional facilities vary widely in design, style, size, staff, and program offerings. About 51 percent of facilities are public and the other 49 percent are operated by either nonprofit or for-profit organizations (about 12 percent are for-profit). As of 2012, there were about 2,547 juvenile facilities, housing 57,190 offenders under the age of twenty-one on the day of data collection. Most of these youths are in placements that screen them for educational, substance abuse, and mental health needs (Sickmund and Puzzanchera 2014), which may be important sources of existing data for researchers.

Instead of "jail" or "prison," juvenile facilities are often collectively called "residential placement" and can include halls, detention centers, reception and diagnostic centers, shelters, group homes, ranches or wilderness camps, training schools, and residential treatment facilities (Hockenberry, Sickmund, and Sladky 2015). Juvenile institutions also vary in terms of their level of security. For example, while most lock youths in their rooms at least part of the day, often at night, a small percentage of institutions do not secure youths in the areas where they sleep, even at night. Moreover, while some facilities (about one-quarter) have security features that resemble adult correctional institutions (e.g., fences and razor wire), others do not even lock doors and have no fences (e.g., about 80 percent of group homes).

It is important to remember that, like adult offenders, more juvenile offenders (54 percent, in 2013) are sentenced to probation than facilities (Hockenberry and Puzzanchera 2015). This means that focusing only on institutionalized youths ignores more than half of the juvenile correctional population. Although the Federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) is currently funding the Census of Juvenile Probation Offices in order to learn more about juvenile probation, there is actually little current national information on probation officers, the numbers of juveniles on probation, or the particulars of their sentences (see OJJDP 2016). Still, these youths are an important group of juvenile correctional clients, and they — along with their supervising agencies and officers — can provide a rich source of information for researchers.

Correctional Officers

Nationally, jails employ nearly 200,000 correctional officers (n = 173,900), of which most are male (71 percent; Minton et al. 2015). The last known count shows that federal and state prisons employed 295,261 officers, 10,769 administrators, 51,993 clerical/maintenance staff, 11,526 educational workers, 46,016 professional/technical employees, and an additional 29,489 other (unidentified) employees (Stephan, 2008). Correctional officers are often exposed to stressful situations given job demands and the risk of victimization. A recent study found that 36 percent of prison correctional officers felt tense or anxious while at work, although the vast majority of officers reported feeling "generally pretty calm on their shift" (Steiner and Wooldredge 2015, 809). Jail staff face similar situations. Jail staff report that the danger they experience on the job is moderately high (Lambert et al. 2004). The daily shift for correctional officers and inmates is structured in large part by daily routines. For example, each jail and prison typically follows a predictable schedule with planned inmate counts, meals, recreation, religious services, counseling, and education services. Of course, there also are a myriad of unplanned events that can and do arise in correctional institutions, including but not limited to physical altercations, injuries, shakedowns, and medical emergencies. Data collection and researcher's presence in jails must fit into the facility's planned and unplanned schedule of events because correctional institutions are highly structured environments that cannot easily change their daily routines to accommodate researchers. Yet, staff are often willing to make arrangements for researchers to collect data among inmates with minimal disruption to the typical daily events at the facility.


Before discussing the nuts and bolts of the lessons we have learned over the years, we thought it might be useful to give readers some background on our research endeavors that inform this work to provide some context regarding the tips we share.

Kathleen A. Fox is an associate professor at Arizona State University. Much of her research examines the victimization of offenders, especially among those who are incarcerated. She has personally interviewed prison inmates, read the details of prison inmates' crimes buried within their files, surveyed jail inmates across fourteen different jails, and examined the official records of incarcerated juvenile gang members as they reentered their communities. She has lead teams of researchers and research assistants, received grant funding, gained access to correctional populations, and maintained positive relationships with correctional agencies. All of this occurred when she was an undergraduate student, doctoral student, and pretenure assistant professor at a Research I university. Her experience underscores the point that while collecting original data is very time consuming, it also can be compatible with (even complementary to) the constraints of one's other demanding career goals, including the race toward tenure.

Jodi Lane has been a professor at the University of Florida since 1999 and generally studies fear of crime and other attitudes toward the justice system and juvenile corrections. She has worked on two major grant-funded research projects studying juvenile correctional populations, as well as a number of other unfunded projects involving offenders and justice system personnel. Most recently, she was a principal investigator on an Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) and Florida Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) project designed to evaluate the implementation of faith-based programming in juvenile correctional facilities (2004–2008). She also was a researcher on the RAND Corporation study of the South Oxnard Challenge Project in the late 1990s, using experimental methods to evaluate a multiagency approach to serving youth on probation. While in graduate school during the early to mid-1990s, she was a project researcher on the federally funded evaluation of the Orange County (California) Gang Incident Tracking System, working with twenty-two police agencies to collect gang data. In addition, she has supervised and collaborated with multiple graduate students on projects involving correctional populations and staff, especially those in jails, work release, and on probation and parole.

Susan Turner is a professor in the Department of Criminology, Law and Society at the University of California, Irvine (UCI). Trained as a social psychologist, she also serves as director of the Center for Evidence-Based Corrections. Turner worked at the RAND Corporation for over twenty years before she entered academia. Over her career, she has led a variety of research projects including studies on racial disparity, field experiments of private sector alternatives for serious juvenile offenders, work release, day fines, and a fourteen-site randomized design evaluation of intensive supervision probation with nearly two thousand offenders. Turner's areas of expertise include the design and implementation of randomized field experiments and research collaborations with state and local justice agencies. At UCI, she has assisted the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation in the development and validation of a risk assessment tool as well as evaluations of targeted parole programs. She is also involved with a number of organizations evaluating the impact of Arts in Corrections programs on correctional institutions and offenders.


Excerpted from "Encountering Correctional Populations"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Kathleen A. Fox, Jodi Lane, and Susan F. Turner.
Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations

1. Introduction
2. Gaining Access to and Building Rapport with Correctional Populations
3. Types of Correctional Data That Can Be Collected
4. Informed Consent Process and Research Ethics
5. Logistics of Doing Research with Correctional Populations

Appendix A. Agency Letter of Support
Appendix B. Weekly Contact Sheet for Staff with Client Caseloads in the Experimental (SOCP) Group
Appendix C. Weekly Contact Code Sheet for Staff with Client Caseloads in the Experimental (SOCP) Group
Appendix D. Publically Available Data Sources
Appendix E. “Thinking for a Change” Facilitator Peer Rating Form
Appendix F. General Informed Consent for Traditional Placements in the Florida Faith and Community-Based Delinquency Treatment Initiative (FCBDTI)
Appendix G. Example of Re-Consent for Youths Participating in the Faith and Community-Based Delinquency Treatment Initiative (FCBDTI)
Appendix H. Informed Consent Form for Youth Interview
Appendix I. Example IRB Protocol
Appendix J. Application for a Research Assistant Position

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