Date of Degree

9-2022

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Program

Criminal Justice

Advisor

Jeff Mellow

Committee Members

Debbi Koetzle

Brian Lawton

Tina Maschi

Subject Categories

Criminology

Keywords

aging, reentry, life satisfaction, parole

Abstract

As the prison population grays, so too does the people leaving prison. In New Jersey and New York, 35% and 26% of people on parole are over the age of 50 respectively. While older persons have lower recidivism rates compared to younger persons, there are physical, mental, and societal challenges that come with advancing age that can make reentry and reintegration a particularly difficult experience compared to younger persons. The aim of this dissertation is to explore the experiences of older adults on parole and the parole officers that assist them in their reentry and reintegration.

This study is unique in that it is the first known study that looks at differences in redeemability and reintegration based on age. Additionally, this study uses sociological perspectives that are under-utilized when studying the correctional, but more specifically, the paroled population. Maruna (2001) and O’Sullivan’s (2018) Belief in Redeemability, and Braithwaite’s (1989) Reintegrative Shaming and Wolff and Draine (2004), Smith & Hattery (2011) and Lin’s (2000) social capital theories will be used to address the following four research questions addressing persons on parole: (1) Do the needs of people leaving prison differ based on age? (2) Are there age-related differences in concerns regarding reintegration for people leaving prison? (3) Are there age-related differences in concerns regarding stigmatization for people leaving prison? (4) Are there age-related differences in finding meaning in life post incarceration? To understand parole officer perceptions of counseling older persons on parole Helfgott’s (1997) theory on social distance as well as parole officer decision-making theories will be used to answer the following two research questions: (1) Are parole officers’ experiences working with older persons on parole different than younger persons? (2) How do parole officers manage counseling and supervision of older persons on parole compared to younger persons?

This dissertation is, as far as the author knows, the first mixed methods examination of life on parole for older persons, and how their experiences differ from their younger cohorts. This mixed methods study will use qualitative and quantitative methods of analysis to understand the experiences of older person on parole from multiple angles including thematic and quantitative content analysis, descriptive analyses and chi-square analyses where appropriate. This study defines older person on parole as someone over the age of 50, and a younger person on parole as someone between the ages of 18-49 under parole supervision. This proposal investigates whether older persons on parole believe they can be successfully reintegrated into the community, considering their age, time served and health conditions that typically accompany older persons who have been impacted by the criminal justice system as it compares to younger persons on parole. Furthermore, this study aims to understand how older persons on parole find life satisfaction after prison and parole. Finally, this dissertation aims to understand how parole officers view older persons on parole and seeks to understand their perceptions of managing and counseling older persons on parole.

Data for the New Jersey responses was obtained from the New Jersey State Parole Board, which included access to people on parole, and parole officers. Data for the New York and Colorado parolee responses was obtained through convenience sampling and snowball sampling techniques. People on parole were surveyed on their experiences, and a subset of older adults were interviewed to obtain rich data on the experiences of being an older person on parole. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, younger people on parole were also interviewed to understand how their experiences compared to the older population. In addition to surveying parole officers in New Jersey, parole officers who were members of the American Parole and Probation Association (APPA) were also surveyed to understand how they supervise, manage, and advice older persons on parole, and to understand if there are any differences compared to younger persons.

Analysis included understanding the effect of age on perceptions of stigma, reintegration, life satisfaction and the ability to successfully reintegrate including finding housing and employment. Thematic analyses were used to analyze open-ended questions and semi-structured interviews to understand the experience of leaving prison as an older person, being an older person on parole, and how health, family ties, social networks impact life satisfaction. Qualitative data provided a basis of triangulation to compare survey results of older persons, but also provides a point of reference and comparison to understand younger persons perceptions of reintegration, stigmatization, and life satisfaction. Thematic analyses were also used to code and analyze open-ended questions on the parole officer survey.

This study’s contribution will advance knowledge on an understudied and growing correctional population using both qualitative and quantitative research on a growing subset of the correctional population under parole supervision, as well as the officers who guide them. This study also advances and further develops a theoretical understanding of persons on parole using criminological and sociological theories on the internal experiences of being on parole. Findings from this study will be used to guide parole practices on counseling, managing, and supervising older persons on parole to improve outcomes. Understanding the impact of age and health on reintegration will help assist older persons further successfully integrate while providing consideration for age-appropriate services and provide insight into ways older persons can find life satisfaction after parole.

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Criminology Commons

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