The Effect of Individual Characteristics and Supervision Experiences on the Perceived Quality of the Supervision Relationship

Date01 June 2021
Published date01 June 2021
Subject MatterArticles
Criminal Justice Policy Review
2021, Vol. 32(5) 523 –545
© The Author(s) 2020
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/0887403420967070
The Effect of Individual
Characteristics and
Supervision Experiences on
the Perceived Quality of the
Supervision Relationship
Eric J. Wodahl1, Thomas J. Mowen2,
and Brett E. Garland3
Research has shown that high-quality relationships between individuals on probation/
parole and their supervising officers can reduce recidivism and increase compliance.
Although this relationship clearly matters, little attention has been given to
understanding the factors that influence this relationship. Drawing on research in
psychology and counseling, this study explores how both individual characteristics and
supervision experiences affect the perceived quality of the supervision relationship.
Results from the Serious and Violent Offender Reentry Initiative (SVORI) reveal
that both individual characteristics—such as mental health and family support—and
supervision experiences—such as the use of sanctions and incentives—exert significant
effects on the supervision relationship. Yet, the effects of supervision experiences
were substantially more robust than the individual characteristics. Findings suggest
community supervision agencies should prioritize positive supervision experiences
to build positive relationships between the returning person and supervising officer.
parole, supervision relationship, reentry, evidence-based practices
1University of Wyoming, Laramie, USA
2Bowling Green State University, OH, USA
3Missouri State University, Springfield, USA
Corresponding Author:
Eric J. Wodahl, Associate Professor, Department of Criminal Justice, University of Wyoming, Dept.
3197, 1000 E. University Ave., Laramie, WY 82071, USA.
967070CJPXXX10.1177/0887403420967070Criminal Justice Policy ReviewWodahl et al.
524 Criminal Justice Policy Review 32(5)
Over the last two decades, the correctional field has experienced a fundamental trans-
formation in which the get-tough approach of the last century has been gradually sup-
planted with a smart on crime mentality. This transformation has been especially
evident in community corrections. Motivated by the realities and consequences of the
deterrence- and incapacitation-based policies of the 1980s and 1990s, community
supervision agencies have adopted a diverse set of policies and practices loosely orga-
nized under the mantras of what works or evidence-based practices. Risk/needs assess-
ments, cognitive-behavioral programming, and the adoption of incentives and
sanctions are just a few examples of evidenced-based policies aimed at improving
success rates and promoting long-term behavioral change that have been implemented
in jurisdictions across the country (Latessa et al., 2014).
The reorientation of values in community corrections has been accompanied by a
pragmatic shift in the role of probation and parole officers in many locales. While
community supervision has always involved a balance of treatment and surveillance
(J. Miller, 2015), in this modern, evidence-based practices era, the therapeutic role of
the community supervision officer has been redefined. Officers, who traditionally
acted as service brokers by connecting individuals under their supervision to treatment
resources in the community, are now called upon to take an active role in the behav-
ioral change process (Bourgon et al., 2012; Taxman, 2008). Community supervision
agencies, for example, routinely incorporate line-level officers into behavioral change
initiatives such as motivational interviewing, contingency management, drug-related
counseling, and cognitive-behavioral therapy.
As the therapeutic role of the supervision officer has evolved from service broker
to change agent, there has been a heightened emphasis on the importance of the super-
vision relationship. A high-quality interpersonal relationship between the supervision
officer and client, for example, is a key component of the well-established core cor-
rectional practices (CCP) literature first articulated by Andrews and Kiessling (1980).
The responsivity principle within the Risk–Need–Responsivity (RNR) framework has
also been utilized to theorize the importance of the supervision relationship. This prin-
ciple holds that better results will be gained when treatment approaches and compo-
nents are designed to suit the “learning style, motivation, abilities, and strengths” of
the person on supervision (Latessa et al., 2014, p. 103). As such, correctional staff who
are better able to engage individuals through interactional styles that are open, motiva-
tional, nonjudgmental, flexible, and respectful will achieve greater success in promot-
ing long-term, prosocial change (Andrews, 2011; Andrews et al., 1990).
Evidence is accumulating to show that high-quality supervision relationships
contribute to beneficial outcomes such as reduced violations, revocations, and rein-
carcerations (see next section), yet little attention has been given to understanding
the factors that influence an individual’s perception of his or her relationship with
the supervising officer. Instead, most discussion on this issue has focused on the role
of the supervision officer’s demeanor and style of interaction. It should also be rec-
ognized that other factors, many of which are outside the officer’s immediate con-
trol, may also impact the perceived quality of the supervision relationship. Research
in the psychology and counseling fields, for example, has consistently revealed that

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