Power, anxiety, and relationships between returning citizens and parole officers

Ram A. Cnaan, Kelsey Woida

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Summary: This study evaluates the relationships between parole officers and ex-prisoners, who return to communities after incarceration (returning citizens). We measured returning citizens’ anxiety about meeting their parole officers and the ways in which they prepare for their meetings. We relate anxiety levels to developing a therapeutic alliance, client confidence that their parole officer is working in their best interest, client truthfulness about their housing and work status, and client optimism about their reentry process. To measure returning citizen anxiety and experience with parole officers, we carried out a survey of returning citizens (N = 193) in Philadelphia just before they were to meet their parole officers. Findings: The results illuminate the ways that anxiety has significant negative impact on the quality of the working relationship between returning citizens and their parole officers but not precautionary behaviors. Returning citizens who reported higher anxiety prior to meeting their parole officer tend to report lower therapeutic alliance, less confidence that the parole officer works on their behalf, and less truthfulness. Implications: Our findings provide more insight into what needs and challenges people on parole and probation face and outline new ideas about which of these factors parole officers should attend to in order to improve the services they provide. We call for parole officers to be cognizant of the anxiety that people under probation face and the need to make them feel supported and at ease. We also call for social workers in most countries to take a more active role in the provision of parole and probation services.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)576-598
Number of pages23
JournalJournal of Social Work
Issue number5
StatePublished - 1 Sep 2020
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2019.


  • Social work
  • criminal justice
  • help-seeking
  • involuntary clients
  • power
  • recidivism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)


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