ATLANTA — The National Science Foundation has awarded Georgia State University criminologist Frances Chen nearly $590,000 to conduct a three-year study of probation and parole officer (PPO) stress and PPO-client relationships.
By finding ways to reduce PPO stress and turnover, the study will help facilitate the reintegration of millions of former offenders into communities and reduce recidivism.
“Probation and parole officers, the frontline workers in community supervision, are important agents of change for client outcomes,” said Chen, an associate professor in the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies’ Department of Criminal Justice & Criminology. “This project will study PPO-related factors — specifically stress and client relationships — that can inform targeted interventions that will better prepare PPOs to improve community supervision outcomes.”
Nearly 3.9 million adults are on probation or parole in the United States, more than double the incarcerated population. Additionally, about a third of the prison population was under community supervision during an event that led to their reincarceration.
“PPOs assume dual roles of law enforcer and social worker to ensure public safety and clients’ successful reentry,” Chen said. “Such complex jobs come with various stressors including physical threats and emotional exhaustion. This stress may impede the PPO-client relationship, the quality of which serves as an important delivery mechanism for various intervention efforts in community supervision.”
Chen and her team will use a multi-method panel design and will collect stress biomarkers and survey data, construct client reintegration and recidivism outcomes from agency records, observe video recordings of PPO and client interactions, and explore the use of novel technology to investigate the impact of PPO stress and the PPO-client relationship on clients’ outcomes.
“We have designed this project to expand the partnership between academia and agency to inform practice while promoting the development of students from underrepresented groups to engage in interdisciplinary research of high policy relevance,” Chen said. “At the same time, our findings will reduce a significant knowledge gap regarding the effect of PPO stress on clients’ recidivism and reintegration outcomes and generate knowledge regarding effective delivery mechanisms for criminal justice intervention.”
Department of Criminal Justice & Criminology
Dr. Chen's research is focused on biosocial bases of antisocial behavior and related constructs, and includes topics at the intersection of criminology and psychology. Her work has been published in peer-reviewed journals such as the Journal of Developmental and Life-Course Criminology, Journal of Criminal Justice, Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, Psychoneuroendocrinology, Biological Psychology and Developmental Psychobiology.