Observing the Control of a Social Underclass--An Ethnographic Study of an Urban Parole Unit

Julie Peggar, University of California, Los Angeles
Sheldon Zhang, San Diego State University
Valerie J. Callanan, California State University - San Marcos
Robert Roberts, California State University - San Marcos

The "tough on crime" stance, popular among all politicians in California, has brought about expensive consequences. Close to 160,000 inmates are currently held in state prisons and about 120,000 felons are on parole. For those who are out on parole, well over half will return to prison within the first two years of their release. In an effort to reduce the high recidivism rate, the State Parole initiated the Second Striker Program to concentrate resources on those at risk of being returned to prison for 25 years to life (on a third strike). In the course of our evaluation of this program, we attempt to utilize several qualitative techniques to examine parole supervision and service referral practices, including face-to-face interviews, direct observation, and audio and video recording of agent-parolee interactions. These different data collection techniques reveal significant discrepancies and variation in parole agents' supervision and referral practices. Although all parole agents welcome the reduced caseload and the resultant increase in supervision intensity, few are making serious efforts to fulfill the true intent of the program--increased service referrals and follow-ups to encourage treatment by program participants. This paper discusses the benefits and challenges of employing multiple field strategies to uncover patterns of correctional practices that may not reveal themselves under any singular data colledtion method.

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Updated 05/20/2006